A SEVERED WASP by Madeleine L'Engle


A Novel
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Bother in the Cathedral--enervating bother--as veteran juvenile author L'Engle frogmarches her 70-ish protagonist through a talkathon of troubles and a marathon of acquaintanceships with bishops, deans, nuns, and others at an Episcopal church in upper Manhattan. Katherine Vigneras, retired from a stellar concert-pianist career to what she expects to be townhouse solitude in lower Manhattan, is contacted by an old, transformed acquaintance: the once-dissolute young man who married (and divorced) Katherine's first love-rival is now . . . elderly Bishop Felix Bodeway. So, gradually, Katherine slips into the Church society: the companionable and talented family of Dean Davidson, including budding musical genius Emily (who lost her leg in what might not have been an accident); brilliant organist Llew Owen, grieving over his wife's childbirth-death; Bishop Allie Undercroft, who reminds Katherine so much of the German WW II commandant in her past; Allie's wife Yolande, former pop-star from a seedy Colombian background; Sister Isobel, once married to Allie; Yolande's sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Gomez; and Sister Catherine, a nun of extraordinary spiritual strengths. Plus, at home, there are Katherine's two tenants: orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mimi Oppenheimer, who proffers comforts and says "Oy veh"; and pregnant Dorcas, separated from a hateful husband who cheated on her with a man. And furthermore, while all of these folks pour out confidences and confessions, Katherine's own tangled past slowly bubbles forth: pianist/composer husband Justin, you see, had his hands broken and was castrated in Auschwitz; yet he urged Katherine to go forth and multiply; so children Julie and Michou (killed tragically at seven) were conceived with help from a Cardinal, a Norwegian conductor, and that Nazi commandant. The action, then, is minimal--as Katherine moves from Cathedral practice for a benefit concert to lessons-for-Emily to social gatherings, ever shuttling between the Village and St. John's. But eventually, after listening and giving advice ad infinitum, Katherine does solve the matters of Emily's secret terrer and seine obscene phone calls. With bland characters, all speaking in the same liturgical-paced cadences: an immense but serenely soaring mess--no livelier or crisper than L'Engle's last foray into adult fiction, The Other Side of the Sun.
Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0374517835
Page count: 412pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1982


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