THE SINGING CREEK WHERE THE WILLOWS GROW: The Rediscovered Diary of Opal Whiteley by Benjamin Hoff

THE SINGING CREEK WHERE THE WILLOWS GROW: The Rediscovered Diary of Opal Whiteley

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

An old jumble of pseudo-romantic fatuity written by a young girl who was later afflicted with religious mania and schizophrenia. Now 90, Whitely has been confined in a British institution since WW II. The mere title of her book's second chapter is enough to make even brave readers pause: ""The Habits of Lars Porsena of Clusium, the Comforts of Michael Angelo Sanzio Raphael, and the Freckles of Sadie McKibben."" If this were not tough enough going, Hoff adds his own rather strange story. He is a tree pruner from Oregon who took it as his life's mission to republish this book after finding it on the shelves of a public library. In the preface to the book, Heft seems to have no perspective on his material: he claims that Opal's other book, a nature study entitled The Fairy Land Around Us, deserves comparison with Thoreau. Heft describes Opal, or the Princesse d'Orleans as she refers to herself in the institution, as an ancient woman ""grown fat on hospital food,"" immobile in front of the TV set, muttering paranoid statements about the hospital staff. Hoff errs when he asks us to ""appreciate"" Opal's schizophrenia for what it ""allowed her to do"" as a child. His view is part of his highly intense identification with Opal. In an obsessively detailed account of his failed attempt to visit her, Heft describes his own emotional collapse in chilling terms, as his nervous system shuts ""itself down"" with ""vertigo, numbness, and a racing pulse."" Heft might almost be a creation of Nabokov, with his ""late nights. . .under dim light bulbs in cheap motels, my eyes out of focus."" That's not all that's out of focus in this curiosity,

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1986
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin