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CERTAIN WOMEN by Madeleine L'Engle


by Madeleine L'Engle

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-374-12025-0
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In her latest foray into adult fiction (after A Severed Wasp, 1983, etc.), veteran author L'Engle recounts--with characteristic lucidity and wisdom--the tale of a dying actor paying tribute to the eight wives and eleven children he has loved. They not only share a name, they share a personal history: King David of the Bible and David Wheaton, well-known actor of stage and screen--each enjoyed many wives, saw their sons killed and their women martyred, but nevertheless managed to live long, deep, and fruitful lives. It makes sense, then, that when Wheaton's daughter, Emma, marries a rising young playwright committed to re-creating King David's life for the stage, Wheaton becomes obsessed with playing the leading role. Life hasn't worked out so neatly for the Wheatons, though: Niklaas Green, the playwright, has proved unable to complete the play; his marriage to Emma, herself now a successful stage actress, is disintegrating; and David has succumbed to cancer in his old age and wants only to bid those closest to him farewell. As the great actor rests aboard his comfortable boat, the Portia, tended by his most recent wife, Emma cooks meals, entertains her father, and reads through yellowed drafts of Nik's "David" play. Scenes of King David's life give rise to recollections of the Wheaton clan's own triumphs and tragedies: the loss of children in infancy, two sons' deaths during WW II, an assault on Emma by her older half-brother. As surviving ex-wives and grown children arrive for a final goodbye, they join David and Emma in meditating on the meaning of all their lives--and grope, even as the curtain lowers, toward what counts most. King David's life may prove less fascinating to the reader than it is to these characters. Nevertheless, the gentle, rhythmic quality of L'Engle's prose is perfectly attuned to this fictional aquatic cruise. A memorable work.