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by Alice Mattison

Pub Date: Aug. 10th, 2004
ISBN: 0-06-621378-9
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

A rigorous novel about a woman whose profession speaks volumes about her own inner life.

Again, Mattison (The Book Borrower, 1999, etc.) explores difficult moral and emotional dilemmas without resorting to easy resolutions. Here, 50-ish Daisy makes her living organizing other people’s clutter, but after years of independent and very sexually active singlehood, she’s recently added some complications to her own existence by marrying Pikko, a 60-ish landlord and apartment complex manager in New Haven with a vaguely mysterious past. Daisy is a bundle of contradictions: judgmental about herself as well as others, she nonetheless gathers around her an odd assortment of misfits; although deeply private, she occasionally hosts radio shows and organizes public meetings. While cleaning up his files, she becomes professionally and sexually involved with a Yale researcher named Gordon, who shows her the funny newspaper headline that titles the novel and becomes the subject of a play put on by an eccentric community theater group with which Daisy has also become involved. Pikko and Gordon, previously acquainted, share a mutual dislike highlighting their different approaches to life. Gordon prides himself on his lack of imagination, while Pikko lives by a strict set of values based on seeing beyond the surface facts. Daisy, who has trouble differentiating among independence, privacy, and secrecy, begins her affair with Gordon assuming it will not affect her marriage, but his cut-and-dried, logical approach to life (and to her) undermines her confidence. As she falls more and more under Gordon’s sway, Daisy shares a secret of Pikko’s with her lover without considering the serious consequences. Her moral certainty shaken, she finally gains emotional clarity. Prickly, complicated characters field a plot that includes an unsolved murder and sexual intrigue—but defies straightforward synopsis: it revolves around ways of viewing experience as much as the experience itself.

Bracingly serious but without pretension, Mattison’s voice is like that of no one else writing today: the demands she makes of her readers are difficult but exhilarating.