EXCUSE ME FOR ASKING by Janis Arnold

EXCUSE ME FOR ASKING

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KIRKUS REVIEW

People live, die, and do various other things in between in this tedious and too long second novel by the author of Daughters of Memory (1991). Although it spins a meandering yarn of two friends, Robin and Julia, who meet in college, grow apart, then reunite later, the book has no real plot; it lacks a beginning, a middle, an end, and, worst of all, a conflict -- the protagonists' families and life in smalltown Texas seem pretty bland. An additional problem is Arnold's decision to tell the story through the alternating viewpoints of characters both major and minor, creating mundane repetition. Our heroines are a little more interesting than their presentation. Julia is a charismatic enigma, a flamboyant magnet with an element of all-talk/no-action to her. She smokes enthusiastically, has dreadful nightmares, fights with her mom a lot, gets an abortion before college, and marries a dull man with whom she has two children. Robin is the conservative mouse. Raised by her Aunt Kate (she's told her parents are dead), she becomes an unwed mother and schoolteacher, settles in Cypress Springs (where Julia is living), then marries the best man from Julia's wedding and has two more children. Small squalls arise along the way: There are several funerals, and Robin sifts through the mysteries of her past because she wants her children to have a sense of family history. Among the few high points is Julia's abortion, related by her in the second person, which conveys her denial and desperation with startling intensity. The narrative's disconnected leaps and bounds are actually a bonus: They indicate that little changes in the characters' lives, while they enable readers to avoid at least some of the boring details. Short story material padded with minutiae to create a novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
Page count: 378pp
Publisher: Algonquin