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 A tidily crafted little novel ruined by a maunderingly melodramatic conclusion: the latest from the author of Kentucky Love (1985), among others, and the nonfiction Dream House (1992). After the death of her husband, archaeologist Charlotte goes on the lam--from her parents, her in-laws, and almost every vestige of her life in Kentucky. She lands in picturesque Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the banks of the Piscataqua River, which is where she eventually ends up living after Grace, an elderly widow, lets a room on her yacht. Toting a scraggly kitten, Charlotte moves in with Grace (who appears to be suffering the onset of senility) and her second boarder, Chloe, a plump, sweet-spirited fisherman's daughter with a loser boyfriend. Also on the boat is Pinky, Grace's slobbering, painfully ugly dog. Predictably, the three women bond, although not without the occasional fracas. Charlotte dodges her relations and submerges her grief, to some degree, by volunteering for the excavation of a local historical site; Chloe gets pregnant; and Grace prepares delicious, healthful meals while continuing a series of public paintings that put the trompe in trompe l'oeil (folks scrape their fingers trying to pick up the phony $10 bills). Not long after Charlotte's dig unearths what may be the remains of a witch, Grace suffers a stroke, and the happy trio's domestic bliss is shattered: Charlotte's in-laws accuse her of driving her husband to suicide, Grace's wicked yuppie daughter threatens to pack her off to a nursing home, and Chloe's boyfriend beats her up. Following this last offense, the three women seize the opportunity to escape their tormentors by fleeing to Nova Scotia on Grace's yacht. While Charlotte and Chloe struggle to help their friend recover her memory before the authorities can track them down, each woman reboxes her personal compass and clarifies lost talents. Points for good dialogue and description, as well as sympathy and mild spells of wisdom; strikes for an unfortunate tendency to telegraph all the surprises with blockheaded metaphors.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1-55597-228-4
Page count: 248pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995


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