THE SCISSOR MAN by Jean Arnold


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Arnold (Prettybelle, 1969) transforms fairly familiar material (lush and magical Latin/Caribbean exoticism; a stock portrayal of child sexual abuse) into an often luminous coming-of-age story. Growing up on isolated, undeveloped Isla Caracol off the Central American coast, 13-year-old Octavia Sandoval feels overlooked and emotionally neglected. She has no girlfriends, and her former playmate, Santiago, has turned into an adolescent tormentor. Retarded older sister Maribel gets all the attention: their father, Dr. Sandoval, indulges and protects her; their American mother disciplines her incessantly so that she won't disgrace the family; the local Maya people treat her as a magical power source and collect her relics, including shreds of her used sanitary napkins. Still, Octavia is happy and secure on the island until the arrival of her uncle Claude--her mother's adored twin--and his son Julian. Then she's thrown into a frenzy: breaking down Julian's proud refusal to play with a girl, protecting herself from her uncle's abuse, trying to make her love-blinded mother see the truth. Octavia's island world and her struggles are evoked in shimmering and poetic prose, yet this mostly satisfying story is often interrupted by present-day ruminations about living in Pittsburgh, marriage to an insensitive man, pregnancy and fear of motherhood. These occasional, undeveloped nods to the truism that childhood abuse has adult repercussions are more irritating than insightful. A dreamy story of childhood against a backdrop of superstition, casual violence, and adult threat.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 1990
ISBN: 385-415087
Publisher: Doubleday
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