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In Caribbean writer Antoni's second novel (after Divina Trace, 1992), drenched to soddenness with lush language and symbolism, two women--one black, one white--tell their melodramatic life stories to an unborn child. As black maid Vel lies on her employer's bed recovering from a failed abortion done with a pair of scissors, Lilla Grandsol, her white mistress, is stirred to recall moments in her own life. Recollecting first how Vel came to work for her, as well as Vel's prior attempts to abort this mysterious pregnancy, she then goes on to address her story to Bolom, Vel's unborn child. The only daughter of an Englishman and the Creole heiress of the estate she's now living on, Lilla remembers how her happiest times as a child were spent with Dulcianne, the daughter of the black family housekeeper. A lonely child with a pious, alcoholic mother and a father who philandered, Lilla was raised as a Catholic by her mother. But as she grew older, she discovered that she enjoyed intense pleasure masturbating while simultaneously telling her beads. These tensions between religion and sex get her into trouble when she's sent to a convent school. Her mother dies, her father disappears, and Lilla marries Keith, a.k.a. ""Daisy,"" a British architect. While the two are the greatest of friends, their sex life is troubling, and Lilla's husband, realizing he's gay, flees to England with his male lover. Like a Caribbean Miss Havisham, Lilla locks herself into her decaying mansion with a golden key and, except for outings with Vel to buy groceries with their dwindling funds, stays home. Thirty-three, like Lilla, Vel has had a far more hardscrabble existence: early pregnancies, children lost to disease, and a feckless husband. But she is devoted to Lilla. And in her side of the story she reveals how far she's gone to ensure that the two women can stay together in their mouldy bolt-hole. Caribbean gothic with literary pretensions.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Henry Holt