Kirkus Star


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In this myth-like, haunting novel, Hoffman's brilliantly rhythmic prose flashes upon the roiling mysteries of death and love--through a prism of iced-in lives. Three generations of a frozen family reside in the Compound, a family fortress of sun-pink buildings facing a contemporary Long Island Sound: the ""White Esther,"" an aging and ill matriarch; her suicidal son Philip; her gin-soaked daughter-in-law Rose; and her 18-year-old granddaughter, who hates the grandmother who has raised her so lovelessly. It is summer--the Drowning Season--and Philip, scenting the fullness of the sea, must be restrained, as always, from wading out to his death; it is the job of Cohen, an aging wanderer who has silently loved the White Esther for 20 years, to keep Philip alive and to keep peace with the neighboring fishermen who believe Philip has put a curse on their harbor. Time seems arrested. The Black Esther cannot seem to leave the Compound, Philip waits, and Rose drinks--while the White Esther's husband Misha and his dwarf brother Max posture to no effect. Then. . . Esther suddenly realizes she is dying, and memories rush back: her monstrous Russian childhood of cruelty and her terrible revenge, escape through the snow, selling Max to a circus, the expedient marriage to Misha, and the unwelcome birth of an unwanted son. Now she is haunted by the ghosts of all the unwanted and unloved, and she is afraid. Is it too late to love? But then at last Philip keeps his date with the ocean, and the Compound begins to crumble with bulldozers and the invasions of the fisherfolk. Esther awakens, with Cohen's love--and with love given and received by Esther the Black. The White and Black, ungiving and deprived, are joined by love: ""from a distance, it would have been nearly impossible. . . in the pale morning fog, to tell the two women apart."" A mesmerizing, magical work by the darkly gifted author of Property Of (1977).

Pub Date: June 22nd, 1979
Publisher: Dutton