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Nevins's second novel, following her Commonwealth Avenue (1996), is the slow-moving tale of a beautiful scholar whom the cold moon goddess Artemis drives mad. Readers familiar with myth will know midway just what Nevins has in store for a climax and may go along to see how she brings it off. Selene is the daughter of Professor Sterling Alva Catcher, a Greek scholar at Cambridge who holds moonlit rites to Artemis and tells his students that the pagan Moon Goddess is the true goddess of mankind. A Star Chamber meeting brings Sterling to heel, but he roars that ""I am an initiate of the Mysteries!"" and leaves Cambridge. Selene knows that as a baby she was offered to the goddess, and she grows up hoping to be an initiate as loyal as her late father. At first she has an active sex life, but then takes a vow of chastity; her hatred of men eventually grows into a mania, poisoning her life and eventually making her a less interesting figure. Selene largely raises her sister's daughter, Carmen, and Carmen grows up in awe of her aunt. Selene, meanwhile, publishes some impressive works on Annunciation paintings of the Italian Renaissance, coming to believe that the Virgin Mary is an incarnation of the Moon Goddess, which mildly shocks Father Giovanni Corio, the narrator. The adult Carmen falls in love with Victor Bellacâra, a ravishingly handsome man who seems to resemble the noblemen portrayed in Renaissance paintings, and we know that Selene will disapprove. We also know that her vicious pack of untrained dogs is in the wings, waiting to act out the story of Actaeon, who was torn to pieces by dogs. Despite the lapidary writing, Nevins chooses to pad nearly every page with descriptive detail, and one grits one's teeth waiting for the author to get on with it. Selene swiftly loses our sympathy, Nevins turns to ever more forced inventions, and the narrative lags in a book that's, finally, chilly and unmoving.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Wyatt/St. Martin's