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A tough, generous, promising first novel about female coming-of-age in a selfishly flaccid America. Protagonist Doric Keillor is a refugee from the title story of Hribal's Matty's Heart (New Rivers Press, 1984) set in the fictitious Midwestern town of Augsbury. As the novel begins, Dorie, now 17, flees the family farm, leaving behind an aborted child, an alcoholic mother, and a gossiped-about reputation for stunning beauty. Hiding in Milwaukee, she meets Mia Zolkauer, older, a bit more broken, and they become soulful partners in tawdry urban adventure: banal, heartless flirtations; working and whoring to survive. Men are both the onus and the target for Dorie. Their grotesque fawning over her ""American Beauty"" generates in her a sexual power and self-loathing that destroy her instinct for love: ""I mount them with my indifference and ride them until I want to get off."" Such emotional cynicism is temporarily leavened by Dorie's long, strained courtship with the wimpish Larry Fields--""a lost jigsaw piece from a puzzle no one's doing""--and by a labored plot turn in which she gets rich pretending marriage to a homo-sexual friend, then using the money to buy up her hometown. Finally, there is calamity at home: Dorie's father loses an arm to cancer, and her mother dies amidst rumors of adulterous sex, madness and needles. At the close, there's a moving reconciliation of wayward daughter and family ghosts. Dorie's first-person narration is powerful and convincing in the (male) author's hands; the prose is tactile and biting, a sharp conflation of grassroots dialect and urban sass. Exactly what went wrong in Dorie's past is merely intimated, and the occasional omission of crucial events--like the redemptive birth of Doric's child--is puzzling. Still, this is a dandily handled novel written with finesse.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1987
Publisher: Simon & Schuster