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The life, filled with domestic misadventures, of a 1940s-era Chicago woman named Peggy McCloud--recounted as if taken from tape-recorded memoirs, in the fiat, undramatized, testimonial style Gifford has employed before (in Landscape with Traveller and Francis Goes to the Seashore). Peggy's sequence of misfortunes begins with her Catholic girlhood, the divorce and remarriage of her parents, her periodic adolescent eczema and her chaste preference for older men. Then it's on to: a brief stint of modeling in New York; marriage to Rudy Winston, a Chicago bookie; the birth of son Jimmy; high times with Rudy and Bugsy Siegel's crowd in Las Vegas; fears of gangland society and divorce from Rudy; dates with other high-rollers; a quick, thoughtless marriage to catatonic Mickey, with immediate divorce. And liter years bring a third marriage (to a mother-fixated musician and deli owner), another child, another divorce, and hubby #4 Jake--who turns out to be a tax cheat, dooming Peggy to a penurious middle-age. Peggy's narration is purposely artless: ""After we moved back to the city I went to a local school for the first time in my life. Public high school was a shock. I was awed by the whole thing, just awed. I felt so alone; I didn't make friends easily."" And though the intent, presumably, is to demonstrate the poetry in a plain, sad life, the effect is merely empty and unshaped--with none of the potential drama or pathos given any emphasis or shading. For a true work of art that captures the life of an ""unfortunate woman,"" see instead Paula Fox's A Servant's Tale (p. 696).

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1984
Publisher: Donald Ellis--dist. by Creative Arts