BEAUTIFUL KATE by Newton Thornburg


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A mopey, defensive novel about brother/sister incest--narrated, years after the fact, by out-of-work screenwriter Gregg Kendall, 43. On the run because he's wanted as a material witness in a drug-smuggling case, Gregg--with tough, young, foul girlfriend Toni--has taken refuge at the run-down family home outside of Chicago. The inhabitants: bitter old father Jason; repressed spinster-sister Sarah; and younger brother Junior, who turns out to be a homosexual with a taste for young blacks (of whom the neighborhood has many) and a greed for the family's small nest-egg. Gregg's mind, however, turns constantly to his two other siblings, both long-dead in a mysterious car-crash: twin sister Kate and slightly older brother Cliff. He recalls their idyllic prepubescent bliss--""a troika yoked by spirit and empathy. . ."" He remembers the tension that came with teen-dom, Cliff turning puritanical while beautiful Kate rebelled against the loss-of-childhood with non-conformism, tomboy-ism, and increasingly seductive behavior toward Gregg. And: ""Whatever her reasons, I went along with her, went along in precisely the sense that a dog accedes to the wishes of a bone."" But Gregg also remembers his post-incest guilt; his attempt to run away into drink and degradation (even ""falling asleep drunk on my hammock bed, Kate remained the empress of my mind""); and then Kate's sudden shift of interest to upright brother Cliff--an attempted seduction (unsuccessful, it seems) that led to the Kate/Cliff doubledeath on the night of a big charity ball. (Gregg's secret: Cliff didn't die with Kate in the crash; he committed suicide.) So now, alone in the old, crumbling house with his dying father--Toni and Junior run off to California together--Gregg wonders ""if it wasn't I rather than Kate who was the sick one, in that I denied my own nature, chose pale convention over the urgent bidding of my heart. . . . And I ache for her, even now, after all this time."" Sluggishly written, unpleasantly populated, and hardly enhanced by Gregg's casual racism: a psychosexual case history with little storytelling appeal.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1982
Publisher: Little, Brown