HELL by Kathryn Davis

HELL

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Davis's third (The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, 1993) is a tour de force made up of the surreal and the poetic, of skillful shifts in voices, settings, and eras--but, under the pyrotechnics, with a nagging sense of there being primarily the familiar and well trodden. An unnamed 1950s family lives in a place first called ``the town of X'' but seeming later on to be suburban Philadelphia. In one of the rooms of this outwardly proper and well-manicured house- -it's got in it mother, father, two sisters, pet dachshund, and mice--is a dollhouse handed down from another generation: and as Davis's narrative unfolds, readers are treated to the mystery, humor, and irony of its being the dollhouse family rather than the ``real'' family who do the walking, talking, thinking, feeling, and reacting. Along with the versus dolls parallel is another, this one created by now and then: Nearby, in the 1860s, lived one Edwina Moss (the 1950s father's name is Edwin), who, like the later family, had not only a dog but also a daughter who fell ill, rejected food--and may have been mystic. What happens? Well, in both past and present, there's a huge storm, a sick daughter, and, in one way or another, a missing father (the Civil War being the cause in one case, work, temperament, and a stroke in the other). In the later tale, the anorexic daughter--Dorothy--loses her odd friend Joy to death in the hurricane, and learns about anti- Semitism when eccentric neighbor Benny Gold is (or is he?) accused of her murder. It's not always easy to tell what happened or just might have happened, though often enough there's involvement and charm amid the gloom--as when one of the house mice declares of the 1950s family that ``The mother was a drinker, the father a gust of wind.'' Brilliant, accomplished, capable, at times even moving--but with the air of an exercise about it for all that. *justify no*  Davis's third (The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, 1993) is a tour de force made up of the surreal and the poetic, of skillful shifts in voices, settings, and eras--but, under the pyrotechnics, with a nagging sense of there being primarily the familiar and well trodden. An unnamed 1950s family lives in a place first called ``the town of X'' but seeming later on to be suburban Philadelphia. In one of the rooms of this outwardly proper and well-manicured house- -it's got in it mother, father, two sisters, pet dachshund, and mice--is a dollhouse handed down from another generation: and as Davis's narrative unfolds, readers are treated to the mystery, humor, and irony of its being the dollhouse family rather than the ``real'' family who do the walking, talking, thinking, feeling, and reacting. Along with the versus dolls parallel is another, this one created by now and then: Nearby, in the 1860s, lived one Edwina Moss (the 1950s father's name is Edwin), who, like the later family, had not only a dog but also a daughter who fell ill, rejected food--and may have been mystic. What happens? Well, in both past and present, there's a huge storm, a sick daughter, and, in one way or another, a missing father (the Civil War being the cause in one case, work, temperament, and a stroke in the other). In the later tale, the anorexic daughter--Dorothy--loses her odd friend Joy to death in the hurricane, and learns about anti- Semitism when eccentric neighbor Benny Gold is (or is he?) accused of her murder. It's not always easy to tell what happened or just might have happened, though often enough there's involvement and charm amid the gloom--as when one of the house mice declares of the 1950s family that ``The mother was a drinker, the father a gust of wind.'' Brilliant, accomplished, capable, at times even moving--but with the air of an exercise about it f

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1998
ISBN: 0-88001-560-8
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1997




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