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DOROTHEA DREAMS by Suzy McKee Charnas Kirkus Star



Pub Date: April 28th, 1986
ISBN: 1933500395
Publisher: Arbor House

An original novel, straddling several genres but settling on none, about a reclusive, elderly woman artist in New Mexico, who has dropped out generally--but especially on politics--to create a tremendous private sculpture on a cliff face, using epoxy to hold years of found objects--bottles, wires, bits of brass--against the cliff's stone. Meanwhile, she's bothered by a real ghost from the French Revolution and then by a band of invading Chicano teen-agers. Dorothea's New York retrospective a few years back made her famous and her work sought after. She has given up painting, however, for this huge free-form sculpture she's making out in the wilds. After two years' work it's done, but she can't admit it. No one has seen her wall until her old English friend, the travel-writer Ricky arrives, drawn to her by some metaphysical call, He's also on his last legs from cancer. Meanwhile, Dorothea is haunted by bad dreams, which become daylight hallucinations, of some Frenchman who is trying to tell her something and even dictates a very long warning letter to her in French. Since the letter is quite well-written in a 200-year-old word-palette, she and Picky take it as hard evidence of a genuine message from the spirit-world--a warning to Dorothea to avoid heroism and stick to her own garden. The subplot finds some very well-drawn Chicano youths being upset by police brutality on their street in Albuquerque and, fearful of arrest, abducting a school art class in a van on its way to Dorothea's for a rare visit she's allowing. The youths are armed, violent adolescents and danger is real as they hole up with their captives. Eventually, Dorothea's good sense and refusal to hate her captors, despite their offenses to her, sink in, and they begin to listen to her suggested way out of the legal dilemma they're in. Somehow the youths bloom beyond stereotypes while the long talks between Dorothea and Ricky have an adult spunk and intelligence not often found in fiction. The ghost story has less going for it, with a considerably smaller occult investment than Charnas' widely admired The Vampire Tapestry (1980). But, overall, unclichÉd, low-keyed, the excitement anchored in character.