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 Rape, murder, abuse, incest, self-mutilation, and temporary insanity combine to form an uninspiring first novel. Growing up in an unspecified region of rural America, Jael hates her Mammie, who allows the men who buy her moonshine to force themselves on the girl with only the warning ``Don't take no more than you pay for.'' Jael eventually knocks Mammie over the head with a mallet, and the murder is blamed on a disgruntled customer. She is adopted by the deacon, River Bill, and lives contentedly in his house in the middle of the river until the day she predictably becomes ``his wife instead of his confused me like nothing before.'' She takes off with a handsome young man who stops at their shop while River Bill isn't around, only to find when she awakens that he's disappeared with all her belongings--a development that surprises her far more than it will the reader. Jael spears frogs for dinner, makes a home under a giant oak, and begins a strange ritual: cutting herself on the stomach, hips, and insides of her thighs. The tone here is so matter-of-fact, and Jael's voice is so colorless, that even this extreme experience seems dull, lifeless, and predictable. After her rescue, Jael fakes amnesia so she won't have to go back to her former life and begin the difficult process of resocializing; instead, she finds support and strength in imaginary companions like the woman she models out of wax and the Virgin Mary. Reynolds's lackluster prose never leaves any doubt that Jael will overcome this passing madness, leaving little reason to watch her working as a janitor in a church, falling in love with a young artist, and joining a sexual- abuse survivors' group. The subject of abuse and recovery deserves more skilled treatment than it gets here. (Literary Guild alternate selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 4th, 1995
ISBN: 0-399-13994-X
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994


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