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LeClaire (Sideshow, 1994) depicts of a straitlaced, middle-aged New England woman and a hot-wired young southerner who slowly come together, thanks to the passionate instinct for motherhood they share.

Opal Gates is a 22-year-old single mother escaping from a stereotypical small southern town, as well as from her young son Zack’s jerk of a father and Opal’s always disapproving, self-consciously genteel mother. Opal organizes her life according to signs. Before leaving North Carolina, she rolls the number “three” with Zack’s dice and so decides to settle wherever her third tank of gas hits the empty mark, which happens to be Normal, Massachusetts. Opal rents a house next door to Rose and Ned Nelson. Ned is a good, simple man looking forward to retiring to Florida, but Rose is more complicated. In perpetual grief tinged with needless guilt over the car-accident death of her adolescent son five years earlier, she has cut herself off from normal life and from most human interaction, even with the patient Ned. When she articulates her grief in a writing class with enough clarity and flair to attract the ardent attention of her teacher, she drops the class. Rose is critical of her new neighbor, whom she considers an irresponsible mess of a mother. And Opal is, in fact, a sensualist whose appetite for sex and junk food eventually gets her into trouble. But when Zack’s father brings a lawsuit to take custody away from Opal, Rose finds herself drawn into the case. Gradually, through her own growing attachment to Zack and Opal, Rose comes back to live in the present, while Opal learns what maternal responsibility really requires. As for Ned, his convenient death allows the two women to begin over together.

Domestic melodrama with writing that’s often elegant, though otherwise created mainly out of old, familiar, spare parts, especially in the singularly annoying Opal.

Pub Date: June 6th, 2001
ISBN: 0-345-44572-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2001


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