THE REALM OF SECONDHAND SOULS by Sandra Shea

THE REALM OF SECONDHAND SOULS

KIRKUS REVIEW

A relentlessly lyrical first novel, sometimes captivating with its luminously eccentric characters and setting, but at other times becoming so mannered and coy you’ll want to pitch it through the nearest window. Don—t, though—because Shea’s unusual tale of an orphaned girl, Novena, growing up as the adopted daughter in a house energized and besieged by her aunt Elegia’s four sons (all older than Novena) dramatizes movingly the fragile web of family love and interdependence that simultaneously links together and ensnares the story’s high-definition characters. Novena, more than a bit fey and waiflike, is a sensitive girl whose otherworldly spirit (she creates from remnants of boys’ shirts objects that function as love potions) and essentially outcast state bring her into a hesitant loving relationship with a lonely storekeeper, a sense of what may be her real self in a secondhand clothing shop, and an obsessive psychic kinship with her cousin Zan, a “wild” youngster who commits a brutal crime, then disappears, yet remains on the fringes of Novena’s consciousness—as he does on that of her delusive aunt Annaluna. This is Alice Hoffman territory: the faintly unreal locale (Nile Bay, which both is and isn’t a contemporary small town) and unconventional given names (Elegia’s other surviving sisters are Quivera and Jakarta), coupled with an insistently gossamer prose style that relates Novena’s and Zan’s juxtaposed stories in a godlike aphoristic omniscient voice that’s equally capable of incisive metaphor (“sleep is an unreliable oblivion”; “Novena was suddenly sick of the past, of breathing its fumes”) and overripe sonorous pronouncements (“Grief . . . is like the fine china of emotions, brought out for solemn and momentous occasions”). Shea knows what she’s doing, but her calculated wistful portrayal of bruised souls finding and losing fulfillment in one another will turn off at least as many readers as it enchants.

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 2000
ISBN: 0-395-83810-X
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1999




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