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A touching though somewhat obscure first novel about a chess prodigy and a traumatized young girl. As the novel begins in Arizona, the police have found an unidentified 15-year-old girl who has been savagely raped and beaten; when she recovers consciousness, she is unable to remember who she is or what happened to her. She ends up in the St. Francis Sanitarium, an institution run by an order of nuns led by the kindly Sister Zoe. There's little improvement in the girl's condition until the arrival of the thoroughly exotic Julian Papp--a 20-year-old albino chess whiz whose newly diagnosed epilepsy has deeply depressed him and made him suicidal. Naturally, he and the gift begin as antagonists but soon are able to help each other: Julian teaches her chess, and the girl helps puncture his cynical veneer. The girl even remembers her name--Melanie Chamberlain--but can't recall her rape until Julian has a series of dreams in which, strangely enough, Melanie's horrible ordeal is revealed to him. in the end, Melanie leaves, reconnected once again with her psyche, and even jaded Julian gets his batteries recharged. There's much to question here: Julian's unexplained dreams seem merely a deus ex machina to resolve Melanie's difficulties; Muir's nuns are far from realistic (especially the sexually twisted Sister Dana); and those readers uninitiated in chess may find parts of the book slow going. But Muir makes his two young protagonists come alive (particularly Julian, who could do with a novel all of his own). Overall, then, marred but sharp and unusual.

Pub Date: Nov. 24th, 1987
Publisher: St. Martin's