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A fascinating and wonderfully evocative first novel about life on Alcatraz--seen through the eyes of a little girl growing up on the Rock in the 1950s. Though not widely known, it was not only America's most wanted who called Alcatraz home: The prison guards and their families also resided on the island, living in quaint cottages, the children taking the San Francisco ferry to school, and the families managing a modest social life. Here, the story of one such family unfolds under the looming shadow of the prison. Olivia is born the year her parents move to Alcatraz, and the disintegration of her family is told mostly through her innocent perspective. Chapters of her observations on her mother's diminishing mental state and her siblings' ironic delinquency are intermingled with riveting sections on the history of Alcatraz, prison policy, and famous escape attempts, along with a flashback narrative of Olivia's parents as newlyweds. Vivian, the brilliant daughter of radicals, is sent back east for college, where she meets Arthur, a handsome and authoritative law student. When they suddenly marry, the contours of their relationship begin to shift--the fiercely independent Vivian becomes passive and accommodating to please Arthur, while he quits school so that he can support his wife like a ""man."" Years later, isolated on the island, with three children, a rigid husband, and broken dreams, Vivian begins the sad decline Olivia is witness to. Aptly, the prison and a prison guard husband become a metaphor for the stultifying life offered women in the '50s, while the failed attempts at escape symbolize the futile struggle to break cemented domestic patterns. Olivia grows into a rather lonely, friendless young woman, enduring the physical and mental alienation the island creates. Only when she finally escapes the island does she discover a sense of identity and triumph. A compelling story, richly evoking a time and place.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1997
Page count: 266pp
Publisher: Faber & Faber