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by Hortense Calisher

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-7145-3020-4
Publisher: Marion Boyars

The 14th novel from a veteran writers' writer, now in her 86th year, who has for almost a half-century been lavishly praised for her verbal ingenuity and peevishly damned for her baroque fiction's frequent obscurity. The eponymous protagonist (and partial narrator) here is a 40ish nomad, on her own in New York City 20 years after being imprisoned for her complicity in a lethal bombing incident engineered by student revolutionaries. She has spent the ensuing years in and out of drug therapy and psychiatric hospitals. Almost immediately, Calisher ups the rhetorical ante, mingling first-person and omniscient narration and juxtaposing Carol's conversations with the exhausted "SW" (social worker) who visits her cold-water flat against verbal sparring with her street-person comrade Alphonse, an indigent actor. Her escape to a condemned storefront populated by homeless dropouts suits Carol's need to belong somewhere. Beyond this (early) point, little happens. Memories of her student days and of her childhood in Dedham, Massachusetts (raised by two aunts—one of whom, she guesses, was her mother), jostle against her infatuation, friendship, and disillusionment with a handsome South African actor who has his own demons to confront, off in a far different world. This inconclusive, almost inchoate novel lacks both development and tension, but is worth reading nonetheless for its knowledgeability (Calisher brilliantly describes the staging of a pompous piece of theatrical agitprop), really rather remarkable empathy with the city's festering downside, and the assured cadences of its precise, witty prose ("The virtue of the street is that you do not expect") One expects more from Calisher, but is grateful for even this otherwise flawed display of her unique, often haunting mastery of language.