SECRET LIVES by Berthe Amoss


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Twelve in 1937, Addie lives in a dark old New Orleans house with two maiden aunts who are prematurely preoccupied with the family burial plot and dedicated to the memory of their younger sister Pasie, Addie's mother, a beautiful artist who perished in a hurricane when the child was five. Now Addle determines to find out what her mother was really like, and as she sneaks and pries and wrangles, she encounters gaps and inconsistencies in what she's been told. Realistically but unexcitingly, Addie comes up with no spectacular revelations; however, aided by Holly--the black maid's visiting granddaughter, who imagines herself a witch doctor just as Addle imagines a secret romantic life as a Pasie-like paper doll character--Addie learns that her mother wasn't a good artist (it was Aunt Evaline who had the talent), that she stole and married Aunt Evaline's beau but loved someone else, and that it is Aunt Evaline whom Addie really should and does love. Both aunts pass mildly away before this ends, and before we really understand the dynamics of Aunt Evaline's peculiar devotion. (With an uncle dying just before it begins, that makes for a remarkably high mortality rate considering their likely ages.) Overall, a middling exercise in dust disturbance, most impressive for the stifling domestic atmosphere that pervades.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1980
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown