Kirkus Reviews QR Code
NISSEQUOTT by Margaret Dawe



Pub Date: June 26th, 1992
Publisher: New Directions

A stylistically strenuous, time-and-image hopping, ultimately arresting first novel concerned with the changing inner and outer worlds of a Long Island girl from 1958-1973, and with the raw strength of youthful growth and change. Sheila Gray, from ten to the teens, reports on her surrounds--from the mall-bound woods and sand-pits around home to her family, who seem to act like moderately predictable aliens: Ma, the prime mover, says things like ""Let's have some action, man,"" and, for her, her (Catholic) religion is ""crap."" Ma also shouts down grandfather Pop, kicks his suitcase, and he's off on the next plane. (Pop wanted to take Sheila to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage). But when Ma's mother dies, Sheila sees her monstrous anger. Meanwhile, Dad cooks and calls Shells ""Babe"" and never seems to stand firm for anything. Then there are two brothers and a sister who don't connect much. Connection with Ma, however, is important; Shells roots for ""mutual memories,"" and throughout she worries about her ""deformity,"" her baggy eyes--an early arrow of anxiety Ma has shot home. Among her adventures with peers (a ""hoodlum"" party, a crush, sex games) and a scary neighbor, events in the nation arrive on the tube with Lucy and the game shows. Throughout, Sheila greedily grabs at clues to behavior and survival-a new way of tossing a head of hair hits her like a missile: ""I had never seen anyone do this and I was waiting for it to mean something [but] just was."" An often remarkable approximation of the bombardment of presences, animate and otherwise, upon the dynamic, evolving psyche of a child--in this case, with rapid shifts of perspective, a difficult but mesmerizing style, and some wonderfully playful items (""car car car""--a train going by).