THE FRINGE OF HEAVEN by Margaret Sutherland


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In her first novel to be published here (a short-story collection, Dark Places, Deep Regions, appeared in 1980), this New Zealand author--with bright, stylistic efficiency and an attractive humor--records the centrifugal whorl and breakaway of the people around a magnetic, maddening middle-aged woman. . .a kind of super-ethical senior hippie. Olga, mother of three, painter of ""streaky landscapes,"" lives in a bush-area rickety house, absorbed in Art, History, and her children. She's a loving mother who playfully colors mashed potatoes green when there's nothing else to eat, a scorner of all ""commodities"" like money, ""a gallant bird who simply doesn't fit in."" A long-ago husband left Olga with daughter Rowan (now a psychiatric nurse) and son Stefan--who may be autistic. Angelo, a more recent mate, is responsible for daughter Lilah--but he became abusive and left when Olga refused conversion, marriage, or any other Catholic Church ""ballyhoo."" And now Olga's non-conformity is a beacon to those around her--especially lodger Paul, a lab technician recovering from hepatitis and a tiresome affair: he gains confidence in ""living without categories,"" dumps his job, turns to creativity and manual labor--and has undertaken the normalization of mute Stefan. (Olga's muscular maternal love is an obstacle here.) But Paul will be driven to rebellion when Olga brings home not only her mentally ill sister but wretched Rose--a wedding pickup--who is given Paul's tower room. Paul explodes and leaves; Rowan, falling to save patients or trees, knows ""some things must be accepted""; food is a problem again. . . and Olga's center is slipping. Sutherland offers some rich satiric moments: a Chaplinesque nightmare of a lab experiment; a bizarre Tupperware-like sales party; a jargon-stiff psychiatric rap session. So, though the tidy happy-endings for all bring her fiction into the cosy-village genre, this is an appealing portrait of a non-conformist doggedly creating worlds enough and time while enclosed in the nutshell of conformity.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Stemmer