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SPINSTERS by Pagan Kennedy


by Pagan Kennedy

Pub Date: June 26th, 1995
ISBN: 1-85242-405-2
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

 A slim novella that--like the author's story collection (Stripping, 1993)--chronicles the dramatic loss of innocence of its female lead: Here, the narrator and her sister take to the road, though not quite in the manner of Thelma and Louise. Doris and Fran, whose memoir this is, are 30-ish ``spinsters- in-training'' who live comfortably in small-town New Hampshire circa 1968. Having attended their father until his recent death, they've existed in a historical and social vacuum. Now, when Doris convinces Fran to visit their widowed aunt in Virginia, the two discover en route that ``the whole world had grown young.'' Doris literally lets down her hair and gets into the groove of the times, but Fran clings to what she has known--which isn't much. Jilted in her one chaste romance by a dull librarian, she eventually entertains the wildness within her. In Memphis, where they've gone to visit another relative, she reluctantly dyes her hair, abandons her smart suits for a contemporary frock, and decides with Doris to drive on. Joining them are their young, immature niece and her brooding boyfriend, an 18-year-old headed for college but afraid of the draft. Fran spends some time recounting her history of sexual fear and repression; she also dwells on her dead parents: the mother a possible suicide, the father an unfashionable conscientious objector in WW II who later regretted his decision. When Fran's pent-up desire bubbles over, it does so with a vengeance, though not quite enough so to match the sexual revolution going on around her. Kennedy's historical context, telegraphed with newspaper headlines and TV in the background, overdetermines the events here, limiting the sense of authenticity in an intendedly naturalistic book. And Fran's faux-naãf voice is at times jarringly worldly, creating an unwanted tonal dissonance. In short: a deeply flawed, if admirable, first novel.