LIZZIE by Dorothy Shawhan

LIZZIE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A Mississippi belle totes all sorts of trendy baggage--and a few southern gothic staples--in a first novel based on a real-life governor's daughter who tried to be different in a less-than-hospitable milieu and time. The purchase of a desk that belonged to a former Mississippi governor, Stephen Dunbar, and the discovery by a local antique dealer of a cache of Dunbar papers provide the opening frame for the story of Lizzie Dunbar--a story that begins in 1902, when Lizzie is born and father Stephen takes her dead, deformed twin brother and throws him into a pond. Neither Lizzie nor her mother will never even know that the child existed, but Genesis, the obligatory trusty black Mammy, does, and she will always hold Stephen responsible for what later happens. A chorus of voices, including Lizzie's own, carry the story on from 1902 to tell how this ""belle in her day, though wilder than most,"" came to spend the last 20 plus years of her life in the local asylum. Horrified by his son's deformity, Stephen avoids his gentle wife, who gradually fades away while he begins his political ascent. In 1916, he's elected governor, and Lizzie is sent off to Virginia to be educated as a lady. But Lizzie, who--in Stephen's opinion--has a boy's ""mind and spirit,"" soon gets into scrapes. She runs away to New York, where she meets Emma Goldman and Dorothy Day; gets seduced by a mysterious communist who infects her with syphilis; and then, ailing, returns home in 1919 to start a feminist newspaper and make further waves by hiring a black secretary. When the Dunbar money runs out during the Depression, Lizzie starts on the long decline that leads to her breakdown, her summary committal by Stephen, and her death in 1968. Poor Lizzie has to do, and stand for, so much that her collapse is an inevitable if melodramatic and predictable clich‚. A lite read with lit pretensions.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Longstreet