DURING THE REIGN OF THE QUEEN OF PERSIA by Joan Chase
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DURING THE REIGN OF THE QUEEN OF PERSIA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this outstanding first novel about binding love and tainted legacies in a 1950s family of Ohio farm-country women, personalities crackle and glint in electric display through a luxuriant atmosphere of gold-spun pasture and orchard air. Chase's innovative narrative voice is a collective one (""We""), that of two pairs of sisters: Celia and Jenny, Katie and Ann--the ""watchful spirits"" listening at doors or on stairwells, roaming on mythic journeys, flourishing teeth-spilling jawbones from Grandad's animal graveyard, drawing blood like scrapping cubs, always taking note of passion's many guises and deceits. (""We knew we had to live our whole lives off what they'd said and done around us."") At the center of the four girls' growing-up: 80-year-old Gram, ""the Queen of Persia""--the sow-bellied, spike-legged mother of five daughters who owns the house and land (sweet revenge on her hated husband, Grandad), who has had 60 years of ""kids and work and useless men."" The girls think: ""We want to be like Gram. We'll order kittens drowned by the bagful."" And in the first of five sections, the girls are young teens, witnesses to the sudden ""evanescent glory"" of Celia's sexual blooming--and Aunt Libby's hasty and doomed protective fortress against sex's time bomb. (""The way she said 'sex' we knew it was something wonderfully powerful. . . ."") Then, in the succeeding sequences, time is run back to when Aunt Grace, Gram's favorite, is alive--and so is Grandad, a violent, magnificently snarling apparition to whom cows ""come like his love-tamed creatures out of the mist"": on two demonic journeys in Grandad's truck, the girls take note of him as another kind of family male, with an alien ""iron strength."" (Just once, however, to their surprise, they see in Grandad ""the eyes of a real person."") Later, the women fill a kitchen, fill their lives with one another--as Aunt Grace begins her long dying, with intermittent visits from husband Neil, ""a blue jay sailing and bluffing"" above the five sisters, ""their slender branches intertwined, thrashing in any wind at all."" And finally, after Grace's death and Gram's last revenge on now-dead Grandad, the farm is sold for a shopping mall. . . and the women scatter. A rich and magical novel, raising to mythic consequence the extraordinary impact of familial/sexual power-plays on the youngest generation.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1983
Publisher: Harper & Row