PAINTED DRESSES by Shelby Hearon


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As in her previous books, Hearon scores here with light-hearted regional observations that don't quite jibe with the more seriously psychological aspects of the novel. LaNelle (""Nell"") Drury Woodward, 25, has left her husband and four-year-old son to spend her life ""translating light"" to canvas. So, to neutralize the gossiping belles of San Antonio, Nell's mother--a whiz at social strut aha display (she bought herself a chocolate Monopoly set for Christmas)--introduces Nell to the Friends of the Bernais Art Museum. Nell is hardly a conventional ""artist,"" however: self-taught, she studies and paints symbolic white objects, particularly dresses, as she works back into her past, trying to find the self that can break free. (After all, ""If you are in the picture, all you could see was out."") And meanwhile, in Kansas, Nicholas Clark confronts his blighted childhood--the fault of odd parents and sadistic older brother Richard, who has continued to be Nick's nemesis; Nick is unhappily married to passionate Virginia, one of Richard's discards. So will Nell and Nick meet? Yes, of course--but not till they're middle-aged. In the intervening years, Nell devotes herself to Max Short, an alcoholic journalist, and will have some success in exhibiting her paintings of uninhabited white dresses. And neurochemist Nick, railed at by a sour Virginia, fights his dread of genetic predestination, dreaming of a woman who'll listen to his problem and ""make sense of it in her own life."" Finally, Nell and Nick do meet--in New Orleans; and with Max dead and Virginia off to Richard, the two visit their two families to rout ghosts: Nell lovingly accompanies Nick's mother Mary Ann back to the terrible secret in her past, and Nick evades the tentacles of Nell's family compound. And then it's off to Kansas. With some painterly appreciations of San Antonio, Sante Fe, San Francisco, Kansas City, a Kentucky town, and east to Boston--plus some roundabout philosophical speculations--Hearon's latest is a bit splayed-out with psychic churnings. But it's generally diverting, snappily styled, and never less than bright.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Atheneum