From the author of the story collection Power Lines (1989): a thinly disguised autobiographical first novel that creates a poignant record of sexual abuse. Shirley, the second child in a dysfunctional family, writes her story in the form of a cathartic memoir begun when she plucks up enough courage to attend a local college. Named after the child actress, whom she somewhat resembled, Shirley is one of a family of four siblings who have only a mother in commona mother who was abused as a child by her grandfather, which may account for her erratic and monstrously destructive behavior. One moment she's giving Shirley princess-like treatment, the next she's using her to cajole money for groceries from the girl's current ``Daddy.'' Shirley finds some comfort in watching old Shirley Temple movies because, like the actress, she's ``learned to step forward, my mouth fixed in a cute pout when angry, a comic frown that I could transform to a smile on demand.'' She also finds solace playing with her dollsBarbie and others whose closed, inviolable plastic bodies and imaginary lives become metaphors for her own struggle to survive. At first, male relatives and visitors merely fondle her sexually, but as she grows older fondling turns to rape, often with her mother's connivance. This is a mother, never quite in focus, who is soon increasingly out of control, drinking, taking and selling drugs, and encouraging her various lovers and their cohorts to prey on her children. In late adolescence, Shirley leaves her family, finds work, and, after her mother's death, is free to tell her story at last. A horrifying account that at times, though, relies more on mood than on the cooler reportage that might deliver the story's meaning to fuller effect.
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