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THE WIVES' TALE by Alix Wilber


by Alix Wilber

Pub Date: Aug. 26th, 1991
ISBN: 0-393-02975-1
Publisher: Norton

A family saga, with murder, incest, oddball characters, a remote country setting—in fact, all the usual ``American Gothic'' ingredients with a light dusting of magical realism, Vermont-style, thrown in for literary good measure. Generations of Dufores have lived in Esperance in rural Vermont, but something about the family makes marriage to a Dufore a risky proposition. Locals talk of tainted blood, something that gets passed down—``in some families it's the sugar sickness, or a fondness for the bottle.'' And when great-grandson Daniel is brought back to be buried, Marie, well over 90, thinks it's time to ``review'' all the events in her family's life. Her first husband, convinced that the apocalypse was nigh, had taken their only child and jumped into a nearby brook to live safely there as trout; her second husband, the father of the surviving Dufores, had literally rotted away; son Ab had died from spontaneous combustion; and son Rich was haunted by second sight. Grandson Dennis carried rocks in his pockets to stop him from flying away, and great-grandson Daniel, who once murdered a man to protect his young sister, a surviving Siamese twin, committed suicide because his head was crowded with stories demanding to be told. Each generation has courted and married, but the price—particularly for the wives—has always been high. Female Dufores have also been affected, though they tended to flee to the West, never to be seen again. Whatever the Dufores try, Marie decides, ``life just seems to lead you where it wants you to go.'' The trouble is, oddities apart, the Dufores are just too nice really to shock or horrify. Wilber tells a good story well, but this debut novel, readable and entertaining as it is, is a bit of a hybrid—an uneven mix of the comic, the tragic, and the stylistically pretentious.