First-time author Aldrich has certainly penned an original work, but it's one that tries too hard to be worldly and jarring. Aldrich sacrifices autobiography for agenda, making the reader question her credibility at times (as at the start, when she claims she watched her family interact from her —unborn position—). The key figure in the narrative is Aldrich's mother, an admittedly weird woman whose obsession with cleanliness extended to rarely cooking meals and refusing to open any windows. The reader feels confused about whether she has obsessive-compulsive disorder or whether her cleaning craze is simply an extension of the hyperfemininity she tries to instill in her daughters. From her mother Aldrich learned to pick at her food and bury her grief for her drowned older sister, who is scarcely mentioned in the book after her death is rather dispassionately discussed. As a rebellious adolescent, Aldrich was dispatched to a second-tier private school, where her only solace came in riding her horse, Alert. (The chapter on horseback riding is the most heartfelt segment of the book.) In college, she engaged in two disastrous affairs with married professors, one of whom divorced his wife and briefly married Aldrich. In the end, though, a visit to a sage fortune-teller helped her to see that she had some power to reinvent the patterns of her life. Now remarried and with a daughter, Aldrich has taken up gardening and revels in prolonging any really dirty task outdoors. When her pristine childhood dolls were sent for her own daughter's use, Aldrich buried them all in the garden, stuffing their painted ruby lips with black earth. Too clever by half, but not personal enough to be whole, despite its encouraging conclusion.
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