In her increasingly interesting work, this English author has intuited some uncomfortable truths about the ``outsider's'' pursuit of the ``ordinary'' (in Honour Thy Father, 1991, a gothicy creeper, as well as in Trick or Treat, 1992). Here, within the pulsing psyche of an adolescent girl—fenced apart, she feels, from the world of her peers—eerie joys and sudden cruelty pierce in and out, and phantoms roam. ``Ordinariness was all that I had ever craved,'' says 12-year- old Jennifer, who can hardly invite anyone over. Bob insists on not wearing clothes (he and Mama are old ``leftists''), TV isn't allowed (gamma rays), and the two are just ``old.'' One day Jennifer decides to dig down to Australia (``the game of a lonely girl''), and, lured by a starving cat instead of a rabbit, she finds a way to a deserted cemetery, a decaying playground, an unholy church sans pews and altar, and then to ``Johnny''—the ferret-faced whistler, working hard with old wood on ``something.'' Like Alice, Jennifer shrinks and expands in perception—the new and exotic loom large, and at home her ``parents'' confess to a lie so terrible that she wants ``to pay them back.'' But later, watching the foolish old couple, she still wants to go back to childhood and certainty, the time before she knew ``the greyness that lay behind everything.'' Armed with the tale of the lumpy, unlikable girl Bronwyn, lipstick, cigarettes, and the tantalizing, bewildering, sexually exciting, dangerous Johnny, ``My life was opening up. Like some exotic flower.'' At the close, Jennifer performs a terrible exorcism. Lies, guilt (``never simple or innocent''), and cruelty flicker on the edge of an adolescent's crazily wavering view of her world and herself—in this mesmerizing tale, again bright with shards of humor, corrosive observation and potent landscapes. A shrewd, efficient, invasive novel—first-rate.
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