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BAD ANGEL by Helen Benedict

BAD ANGEL

By Helen Benedict

Pub Date: March 11th, 1996
ISBN: 0-525-94100-2
Publisher: Dutton

 Told in the voices of its own characters turn by turn, a stirring if somewhat artificially rendered ``lyrical'' second novel by Benedict (A World Like This, 1990), a Columbia journalism professor who's also written about the print media's handling of sex crimes (Virgin and Vamp, 1992). When Bianca D°az, a poor, lonely 14-year-old girl on Manhattan's Upper Westside, begins to abuse her newborn baby, the girl's 40-year-old mother secretly arranges for a middle-class white woman to remove and adopt the infant. That's when emotional and legal hell breaks loose for all three women. Teresa Rivera, Bianca's widowed mother, is a Dominican-American immigrant who cleans subway cars for a living and has helplessly watched her older children's lives crumble in the neighborhood's twin lures and dangers of violence and drugs. Now, Teresa is determined to help her pretty, academically smart but troubled youngest child avoid a dead-end life, and also to protect Bianca's baby from the mysterious falls and bruises she's lately been showing the marks of whenever Bianca takes care of her. But what to do? In steps Sarah Goldin, a reporter investigating Teresa's crooked slumlord--Sarah is childless, well-married, rich by ghetto standards, and is soon beguiled by Teresa and the sweetness of the baby into becoming an adoptive mother. Young Bianca, though, acting under the influence of a likable local Guardian-Angel type named Roberto, sets out to win the baby back, and the result is a court battle ending with profound grief on the part of all: Although Sarah gets the baby, she loses her beautiful home and her husband; Bianca gets a second chance, but in a life now acridly flavored with self-knowledge; and Teresa gets the admiration of the reader--after almost losing everything she loves. Ambitious and often insighful, but with the feeling of being too sparsely populated--its characters being asked to have, and comment on, perceptions not convincingly natural to them. (Literary Guild selection)