LITTLE WOMAN by Ellen Akins


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Bizarre, sometimes macabre second novel by idiosyncratic stylist Akins (Home Movie, 1988); a candidate for cult following without much general appeal. Beauty Skinner, ungainly giant, finds her ""very sketchy gifts sharpened almost to their vanishing points by a very liberal arts education"" but lands a job in advertising and promptly marries the boss--after which ""I'd become so accustomed to doing nothing at the office, to being a body, that it took me quite a while to realize that nothing didn't necessarily have to be done there, and then I became a body at home."" When Beauty gives birth to twins, she refuses to touch them, terrified by their tiny size. Fleeing the domestic scene and infant vulnerability, she cons a wealthy philanthropist, Clara Bow Cole (who suffers knowing that all five of her husbands died shortly after marrying her), into setting up a rehabilitative retreat for troubled women in rural Wisconsin. Beauty plans to make conditions so unbearable that none of the women will stay, and she will be left in undisturbed enjoyment of the property. But once she and Clara Bow arrive on the site with their chosen misfits, Beauty takes her responsibilities seriously, even as everything around her succumbs to mental and physical deterioration. Akins' prose is clever, convoluted and full of the joy of language; her plot and characters bristle with mystery and enigma. The reader must often work hard, however, for insufficient payoff in humor or significance: while much here is winningly strange, little rings true.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1990
Publisher: Harper & Row