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 Short, present-tense sections related in a young girl's voice create a simply stunning first novel. Vice (Creative Writing/Univ. of California Extension Program, Santa Cruz) takes as her narrator Lana Franklin--six at the beginning of this story and an adolescent by the time it ends--then populates an entire Indiana town through Lana's pronouncements, conjuring up characters like Neila Grimes, who shares a party-line with the Franklins and whose eavesdropping presence is often given away by her parakeet's loose lips. Lana's immediate family is particularly vivid: her sister, Abbie, five years Lana's senior and apparently mature; their volatile mother; and their increasingly crazy father. Incest has become a commonplace fictional subject, but it's rarely handled as delicately as it is here. Lana is never coy, just perfectly childlike: ``Daddy says okeydoke. He's done with me sitting on his lap, so he pushes that doohickey on the side of his chair and lets me go,'' she reports early on, then later, when she is hospitalized with an unnamed, itchy disease, she remarks that ``Mom comes to visit and she's all happy saying thanks to me she's got grounds to get rid of the old man for sure this time just wait and see.'' One of the major accomplishments here is Lana's gradual growth and the subtle changes in her voice and vocabulary. The short-burst chapters accumulate the weight of a family photo album. Abbie and Lana invent a game called ``The Old Man's Gone for Good,'' in which they come up with ever more creative ways of imagining their violent father's death. For her part, their mother is not faithful to her husband and careless about what she says in front of her daughters. Only a few unnecessary third-person chapters showing Lana's father's point of view mar the striking economy of language and plot. A streamlined vehicle for a writer with tremendous talent.

Pub Date: March 20th, 1995
ISBN: 0-525-93863-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1994