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Pope's affecting but uneven first novel both celebrates and decries the innocence of its setting--Cape Code in the 1960's, when an unwed mother was the stuff of scandal. Orphaned Damaris Bishop has always been a ""handful"" for her grandparents, and 'when she gets pregnant at age 17, it's the last straw for stem, unyielding ""Grand-pere."" He throws her out. Damaris moves into a local boardinghouse, where she's by far the youngest lodger, and by the time her son, Peter, is born, Damaris has assumed the role that seems to be her natural fate: caring for the elderly. Even while tending her new-born's needs, she becomes adept at treating bedsores and smoothing stiff old joints. Her prowess eventually leads her into an uneasy trace with Grand-pere as Damaris returns home to care, first, for her increasingly senile grandmother and then for the old man himself. In terms of her personal life, there's a botched attempt at a reunion with Peter's father and not much else--until Damaris discovers that she can find fulfillment in making stained-glass windows, a kind of legacy from her dead father, who had been a master glass-blower. In the meantime, Pope's storytelling style veers from folksy (""the Bishops were already old-timers. . ."") to overblown (""the antiquarian acquiesces""). The real problem here, however, is that we keep expecting more than we get. Pope has a flair for setting up scenes of tension, but all too often they tend to fizzle away. And Damaris, the once-naughty child, the woman who is supposed to love stained glass, turns out to be curiously colorless. We like her, we feel sympathetic to her situation, but we can't quite see her. It's frustrating, finally, that his story, which sparkles plenty, never manages to hold the light.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1990
Publisher: Viking