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Harrison combines the violence and craziness of the southern gothic with the gentler spirit of magic realism in a second novel (following Walls of Blue Coquina, 1990) that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't but is never, ever dull. The principals in this small-town drama set in Calhoun, Florida, are Doris Montgomery, an attractive middle-aged woman whose husband Pete died in a mysterious boating accident 20 years before; her equally attractive daughter Kitty, a cosmetics salesgirl; and Kitty's lover, Frank Birdsong, a wealthy middle-aged bachelor who inherited the family orange groves but is now a developer. There are frequent flashbacks, all quite wonderful, to Doris's oppressively religious adolescence in the Keys, from which Pete rescued her. The present is full of mysteries. Why is Kitty not ready to marry the available Frank? Why has Doris just tried to kill herself? Who is firing bullets through Frank's windows? And trying to tag him as a polluter by dumping pesticide on his development? While Frank goes hunting for the bad guys (who retaliate by killing his partner), Kitty looks to the stars and consults Judy Garland Dominguez, a Cuban psychic--but Doris is the key. It was she who two-timed Pete by taking the weak, malleable Frank as her lover; she who terrified Kitty into feeling responsible for Pete's death; and it is Doris now who grabs Frank back from her daughter (""it was my right""). Inevitably, death and desolation are the fruits of her mad egotism. Yet Doris is the biggest failure here. In the flashbacks, she is a warmly sympathetic victim; in the present she reveals herself, slowly, as a monster. What happened in between? Without a bridge, the reader is disoriented; disorienting too is Harrison's hopelessly awkward narrative technique. Finally, though, exasperation is outweighed by gratitude for this rich haul from an abundantly gifted storyteller. More, please.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1992
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich