A mental hospital helps a severely depressed young woman take charge of her life—in a heartfelt but uninspired first novel from children's book author Barrett. Elizabeth Miller has stopped working at the pants factory in her small southern town, so depressed that she sleeps all the time in the family home where she lives with her well-meaning but ineffectual father and the domineering mother who is the cause of all her problems. Years before, Vera Miller had accidentally killed Elizabeth's older sister Angela, then a small child, by backing over her in the car. From that point, Vera has raised Elizabeth as a substitute for her vanished angel, always thinking Angela, not Elizabeth. The result is a 28-year-old who is ``half-woman, half- child,'' who has never dated, who has zero self-esteem, who is a domestic slave: ``All my life I've been going and getting for Mama.'' Then, encouraged by sympathetic Aunt Lona, she enters the hospital and begins to discard Angela and become Elizabeth, even breaking her self-imposed taboo by revealing that her mother had her suck at her breast when she was a six-year-old. Elizabeth tells us her story at an excruciatingly slow pace. All the emphasis is on the heavy lifting she has to do to develop her identity; hospital, staff, and patients are poorly characterized. The staff are a mixed bag (Elizabeth blooms under the care of Dr. Adams but is propositioned by Dr. Johnstone) and her fellow-patients sketchy outlines; the suicide of her favorite, Hemp, is a non-event. At the close, Elizabeth heads out to enjoy her new-found freedom. Whatever the actual case, this reads like autobiography: therapy for the author, perhaps, but slim pickings for the reader.
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