THE NATIVE by David Plante
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After the embarrassingly bad fifth novel (The Catholic) in Plante's Francouer family Story, he here exhibits the same narrative restraint and philosophic sensibility that made The Family a contemporary masterpiece. Plante manages to regain stride by turning away from Daniel Francouer, his alterego through the other five volumes, and a character of exhaustible depth. In this latest episode from the lives of the French Canadian family in Providence, Rhode Island, Plante focuses on Daniel's older brother, Phillip, whose nuclear family well embodies the religious struggles that underpin all the books. This volume opens with the violent scene of Phillip's 20-year-old daughter, Antoinette, trying to drown herself in the bathroom tub--a scene that sets the tone for this dark and foreboding, extremely Catholic novel. What led to Toinette's ""hatred of life"" is her confusing religious heritage. Phillip, in an effort to escape the ""closed, dark religion"" of his Canuck ancestors, married his college roommate's sister, a Protestant from Texas who never converts, partly, no doubt, because she is treated like a foreigner by her husband's secretive family. (Readers of the previous novels need not be reminded of the Francouers' strange and volatile behavior.) Her daughter, in her ""suffering,"" feels a deeper bond to her grandmother, with whom she spends an inordinate amount of time. Over summer vacation from school, at her grandmother's lake house, she feels ""as if she had come to a convent in which she must take a vow of loneliness."" A few years later, after Memere's death, Toinette renews her effort to imitate her cool-headed and chin-up mother, herself soon to die from cancer. The latter's ""soullessness""--in Francouer terms--contrasts with her mother-in-law's ""abiding soul."" The Catholic-Protestant split over free will and fate, the nature of the soul, and all the psychological ramifications of these differences contribute to Toinette's divided self--a self she mends in mourning. Though provocative on its own, this short and dense novella is a brilliant addition to an uneven saga.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Atheneum