A COVEN OF WOMEN by Jean Brody


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Like Brody's Gideon's House (1984), this bittersweet plug for female self-determination and sororal togetherness is edged and underlined in sentiment, but here--fanciful and curlicued in supernatural hoopla--it's immensely likable. Great-aunt Vida Austin was six when she outwitted the Angel of Death, reported to be poised to take away the soul of Vida's dear dead Gramme. The trick was to paint a portrait of Gramma in words to capture her forever. Before long, Gramma had ""settled comfortably into the words,"" and the word portrait containing her was put away in Vida's treasure box. This way, through Vida's life as teacher, governess, friend, lusty lover and traveler (from native Oklahoma, west and south), Vide collects and maintains her ""family."" But ghosts moving outside their box and mingling in the community make others ""uneasy,"" and lovers flee. Finally when Vide is dying, she asks great-niece Mary Megan to set the ghostly family free. But Mary Megan decides to pursue some secrets in the lives of those whom handsome, life-loving Vida had touched. There are stories of lonely women, brave and inventive women--some of whom toiled away with some irritating magic ""help"": a talking typewriter, spells involving stolen footprints, and a convenient trapdoor in the brain that swallows unpleasant memories (although it turns out that ""we need our regrets""). At the close, Mary Megan convenes a coven, including Vida, her friends and relations, to help with a marital problem. The misty gang's often irascible, but their pithy dialogue, plus a spectral stage show, cues in Mary Megan to the revelation that, as a woman, she has ""several lives to live."" The feminist message is earnest; but the touch is light, and Aunt Vida and the ghosts have considerable pep and sass. Rather fun.

Pub Date: June 9th, 1987
Publisher: Atheneum