NISSEQUOTT by Margaret Dawe


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 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 Sheila ``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; Sheila 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).

Pub Date: June 26th, 1992
ISBN: 0-8112-1202-5
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: New Directions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1992