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Though billed as Willard's first novel for adults, this cotton-candy fiction brings together only the stickiest, most juvenile elements--whimsy, nostalgia, sentimentality, and the supernatural--in a harmless but precious fable. Ben and Willie Harkissian are non-identical twin brothers born in 1920s southern Michigan: Ben will be good-looking, athletic, noble; Willie will be brainy, greedy, cold. (Their ""souls"" made a Jacob/Esau agreement in the womb.) So, when teenage baseball-star Ben hits a long bali that accidentally slams teenager Clare Bishop on the noggin, bad Willie urges good Ben to keep mum about his responsibility. (Clare, in the dark, never saw what hit her.) Ben, however, is wracked by guilt when Clare winds up paralyzed below the waist; soon, without revealing his connection to her accident, he's paying hospital visits to Clare--who just happens to have always loved Ben from afar. In no time, then, they're a devoted couple: Ben becomes part of the cute, sweet Bishop family; Clare tells Ben about her psychic powers--which allow her to take all sorts of astral journeys with a spirit called ""the Ancestress."" But now comes. . . World War II. So, just as Mrs. Bishop must be separated from husband Hal, Clare must see Ben go off to war--though her out-of-body spirit watches over him: when Ben is imperiled in the Pacific, he survives by making a baseball-game wager with ""Death,"" who wears a three-piece suit and a fedora. Meanwhile, flat-footed Willie escapes the draft, woos Ben's rich ex-girlfriend, and slides into a life of thievery. And finally, after Ben comes home, there'll be: a miraculous cure for Clare's paralysis; a cosmic bus accident, which puts Ben in a coma; and that crucial ball-game between Ben's South Ave. Rovers and the ghostly Dead Knights (Christy Mathewson, Lou Gehrig, et al.)--with last-minute assistance from the womenfolk, Clare's floating Ancestress. . . and another miracle. Despite some superficial resemblance to the ""magic realism"" of Mark Helprin, or the social fairy-tales of Kurt Vonnegut: coy, saccharine storytelling, complete with one-liners from God--and, though likely to find an audience, sure to irritate grownups of all ages.

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 1984
ISBN: 0595138802
Publisher: Knopf