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 Criminal lawyer and novelist Sharp (Lost in Jersey City, 1993, etc.) stakes out a political agenda in this tale of child abuse and two women who crusade against it. In her long and affecting opening scene, Sharp's narrator, Melanie Ratleer, describes a grim Wisconsin childhood in which her father, a brilliant trial lawyer, beat his young wife, Melanie's stepmother, and psychologically abuses both Melanie and her younger brother, Matt. Matt develops schizophrenia and must be committed, and Melanie is sent to be raised by her mother's people in Illinois. Much later, she becomes a lawyer herself and attempts to bury her past in endless work. It proves inescapable, though, and she eventually returns to Illinois to begin anew her relationship with her brother. Enter Mildred Steck, a friend of Matt's. Mildred's a latter-day free spirit who becomes even more radicalized when her political activist husband, Daniel, returns from Brazil and begins, suddenly, to abuse their three-year-old son, Ben. She and Daniel separate, but when a court awards custody of the boy to Daniel, Mildred kidnaps Ben, and in the process of aiding and abetting, Ö la Thelma and Louise, Melanie finds liberation from her lifelong repression. Mildred even founds an underground railroad for abused women, barricading herself, Waco-style, to fend off the FBI. ``There's a whole nation of women out there,'' she says, ``who live in terror, trapped and dependent, with and without children, and the law won't free them.'' A whole nation? The argument that Sharp advances is that when women flee from abuse, the courts seldom allow them custody, in part because they have fled and in part because men have more power. While her novel is well-paced and dramatic, Sharp relies frequently on stereotypes and presents no worthy men to counter her two abusers. This time out, the author has apparently decided to preach to the converted, offering not healing love or cool logic but ideology. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 8th, 1996
ISBN: 0-7868-6117-7
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Hyperion
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1996


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