First-novelist and purported recluse and drifter Collignon spins a darkly modern version of ``Beauty and the Beast'' in which an iconoclastic California girl befriends a reclusive writer who believes he is too hideously deformed to be seen—her affection leading him to discover in a ragtag finale that he has been a prisoner of his own fear and self-loathing. ``Alovar, exiled to the wastelands by the sheer perfection of his form, wandered the ravaged lands, helping those he could and showing mercy to those he couldn't.'' Sensitive young Eddie created this science-fictional warrior and his bleak epic while living in a rough cabin in the Idaho Rockies. Over the years, despite Alovar's growing fame, Eddie continues to huddle on his mountaintop, unseen by any human except his hobbled old mother, who more or less regularly drags up a wagon filled with Oreos and cigarettes and cooked chickens. Like the aristocratic Alovar, Eddie never questions his exile. He was born so deformed, so animal-like, that his own father cursed him as an abomination. At moments, overcome by the need to howl and run on all fours through the forest, Eddie fears he has become the monster his father thought he was. Then young Katherine appears at his doorstep with the groceries, sent by his mother because her leg is too lame to make the climb. An idealistic kid with dyed-orange hair, ``Kat'' talks to Eddie through the closed cabin door. Day by day, she visits until Eddie falls in love, blossoming with a newfound feeling of humanity. Too quickly, his fragile world unravels when gun-toting townspeople follow Kat to the mountain—but not before he risks showing himself and learns that he has been in a prison of his own making. An obviously talented Collignon makes an intriguing debut, committing some of the typical first-novel sins: awkward pacing, sketchy supporting characters, and a self-conscious, too-abrupt ending.
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