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An eccentric first novel by poet Cooley explores the sometimes creepy, sometimes entrancing link between identical twins. Having just given birth to a stillborn daughter, Alice, a 29-year-old artist, begins reconsidering her own troubled history, urged on in this pursuit when her twin Madeline calls to implore Alice to join her in Sarasota. Alice and her husband Owen agree that a summer away from their home in Atlanta would provide a healthful respite; little do they know that it will also provide Madeline with the foothold she’s been seeking to claim Alice for herself once again. When the two are reunited, the present narrative is overtaken by memories of the past: their great-grandmother Agatha, a twin herself, raises their mother Lily after a car accident has killed her parents. Under Agatha’s tutelage, Lily, a budding ballerina with sights on the New Orleans Ballet, becomes immersed in the world of Judy Garland; Agatha and Lily share facts of the singer’s tragic life as others would a love bond. When Lily becomes pregnant, she hopes that “Agatha’s trick”—drinking vinegar and then vomiting—will leave her trim enough to keep on dancing—but her twin daughters are born despite the abuse. Moreover, Agatha abandons Lily for good. Raising Alice and Madeline in a cheap highway motel where she works as a maid, Lily slips into a deranged behavior typical of the traditions of their small family. She teaches her daughters “Agatha’s trick,” tutors them in the life of Judy Garland, takes them on midnight drives around her old haunts, then deserts them before their 18th birthday. Later, when Alice and Madeline meet in Sarasota, it’s obvious to Alice that her sister’s mental condition has deteriorated even further than their mother’s did: she dresses in costumes and wants to go play in an imaginary Emerald City. A quirky and appealing novel as Cooley builds a riveting story around the sometimes dangerous bonds of family.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-06-039251-7
Page count: 320pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1998