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Chambers' debut novel begins as a typical coming-of-age story, this one describing the world of Bay Harbor, Florida--a town ""as clean and sparkling as a freshly washed shell""--from the point of view of its nine-year-old protagonist. Once bustling, the town has come to be decimated by fever and tidal wave. As the childhood stomping-ground of Anna Lee Owens, it is a lazy place that only gradually feels the impact of WW II: the iceman dies overseas: Anna Lee encounters a tramp on the beach who tells her he's a deserter; and her mother's best friend, Helen, the glowing proprietress of a local boardinghouse, is romanced by a convalescing soldier. Then Helen's husband, Chester, starts sexually harassing prepubescent Anna Lee. At the same time, the girl must cope with her suspicion that she was adopted and with the imminent loss of her beloved Uncle Johnn (sic), a druggist who's spent years trying to convince the town's grass widow, Miss Amy, to forget her insane ex-husband and marry him. Things come to a head when Chester tries to rape Anna Lee, blaming the incident on the tramp, whom she's taken to calling Ashley, after the southern gentleman in Gone With the Wind. After the attack. Anna Lee refuses to speak, though finally the truth comes out--that the tramp is W.T., Miss Amy's ex-husband, escaped from the nuthouse, and Anna Lee is her own daddy's little girl. The gothic twists at the end of this otherwise bright and sensitive story get out of hand and leave the main character unfocused. A pleasant excursion, nevertheless, into the atmosphere of its time and place.

Pub Date: April 4th, 1988
Publisher: Mercury House--dist. by Kampmann (9 East 40 St., New York, NY 10016)