PEARL by Tabitha King


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King's 1983 New England gothic, Caretakers, was a melodramatic dig among Yankee family skeletons; this sequel, set in the same Maine town, Nodd's Ridge, serves up a similar dish--only this time there's fresh, raw meat along with the load of desiccating bones. Drowsy Nodd's Ridge wakes up when Pearl Dickenson comes to town; she's the grandniece of Joe Nevers (a principal in Caretakers), come to take possession of his house and buy out the crotchety local cafÉ-keeper. Her southern-style fried chicken makes satisfied customers out of the townspeople, and her black skin feeds their appetite for family scandal. She befriends the wild teen-age daughter of Nodd Ridge's favorite mechanic, Reuben Styles, then falls into bed with both Reuben and a preppy writer of ersatz poetry, David Christopher. Both guys are troubled souls, which is why she can't quite bring herself to admit her faithlessness to either of them. Meanwhile, Reuben's daughter, Karen, gets beat up by her beau, sending Reuben out to break both of the guy's hands. A mad dog wanders through the action periodically, along with Reuben's virulent ex-wife, and a whole platoon of salty Yankee eccentrics. Finally, David strolls into Pearl's kitchen while she's in bed with Reuben, causing him to commit suicide by diving into an ice-cold lake. When the ripples calm, a long-lost body (David's sister) is pulled out of the murky waters, and Pearl learns that she's pregnant and decides that marrying Reuben might not be a bad idea. King's Nodd Ridge is so rife with homicide, brawling, drugs, and motorcycle gangs that it makes New York City look like Grover's Comers. This may do for readers with prurient tastes, but most will find the plot a messy waste of a couple of otherwise likable characters.

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1988
Publisher: New American Library