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by Joanna Scott

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-8050-2647-9
Publisher: Henry Holt

 A first collection from Scott (Arrogance, 1990, etc.) explores, in luminous prose, the obdurate nature of obsession in real and imaginary characters. Each story here is a mini-case history of a famous or imaginary character conjured up to illustrate the way a particular passion becomes an obsession--an obsession that ultimately consumes the individual's life. Pieces like ``Concerning Mold upon the Skin,'' ``Nowhere,'' ``The Marvelous Sauce,'' and ``Dorothea Dix: Samaritan,'' respectively, offer insight into Dutch lens-grinder Anthony von Leeuwenhoek, who assaulted his daughter to get the tear that under his microscope would reveal a whole new universe and forever change the ``nature of belief''; a Scottish anatomist who, wanting to dissect a human heart to find where the ``body lies with disease, its demon lover,'' secretly buys cadavers from William Burke, who would be hanged in Edinburgh in 1829 for the murder of an innocent traveler; Charlotte Corday, who assassinated Marat in order to rescue France from his revolutionary zeal, and is here mourned by her cousin; and the now-dying Dorothy Dix, who, having dedicated her life to helping the criminally insane, recalls a seminal encounter with two imprisoned madwomen, and realizes that she, like them, would have been driven insane by life's injustices were it not for her grandfather, ``who taught me about the satisfaction of work.'' Three other stories limn the obsessive but unexpressed love of an Indian psychologist for his American patient (``A Borderline Case''); a blind beekeeper who breaks his sacred pact with the insects (``Bees, Bees''); and the harsh life of a rural midwife addicted to chloroform (``Chloroform Joys''). Sensitively nuanced insights into the more macabre manifestations of human behavior, by a writer of admirable originality.