Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Willett's second book, after 1987's Jenny and the Jaws of Life (a collection of stories re-released last year with a foreword by David Sedaris), is a brilliant black comedy starring twins with antithetical dispositions and a handsome stranger with designs on both of them. Zaftig Abigail has turned promiscuity into an art form, while the literary, virginal Dorcas finds pleasure in the library-in its books, but also in the graffiti scrawled on its facade. Dorcas recounts Abigail's scandalous coming-of-age, marriage and eventual act of murder, weaving in excerpts from the book version penned later by Abigail and the sisters' friend, Hilda. Through Hilda and her writer husband, Guy, who considers Abigail "art itself," the twins become involved in a circle of artsy, intellectual and morally decadent friends. Abigail soon falls madly in love with Guy's old friend, the charming but sadistic Conrad, and ensnares herself in a destructive spiral of dieting, degradation and dependency. Through a fascinating interplay of violence and desire, Abigail's masochistic tendencies unfold (Dorcas had identified them as a teen: "I stopped hitting her only when I saw, through the stars of my rage, that she loved it"). It's hard to decide whom to cheer for most: Abigail for her triumphant revenge or Dorcas for her sense of humor, keen perception and restraint. Willett does a remarkable job of treating dark subject matter with shimmering playfulness, without diminishing its monstrosity. And embedded in her narrative is also a reflection on the subjective and sensual nature of written expression. Poignant and funny, mean and tender, Willett's novel is exuberantly original. (Oct.) Forecast: No, it hasn't won the National Book Award yet, but the cheeky title may fool a few unsuspecting readers. The Sedaris imprimatur gave new life to Willett's first book; her second (selected by Anna Quindlen as a Book-of-the-Month Club judge's pick) looks likely to build handily on the first's success. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Hidden behind that dumb title is a mildly creepy tale of misbegotten love and ultimate revenge, a second outing from Willett (Jenny and the Jaws of Life, 1987). The action is set in Rhode Island in the 1970s. Abigail and Dorcas Mather are twins, born in 1938, and polar opposites, as we are reminded repeatedly. Dorcas is mind, Abigail is body. Dorcas, the narrator, who will become a head librarian, decides at age 12 that she will reserve her sensuality for books: "I yearned for duty the way Abigail yearned to show her ass." And show it she does, one carousing night, to the football team, who promptly gang-rape her. Abigail is simply happy to be the center of attention. She'll go on to a brief first marriage and motherhood (the twins raise daughter Anna together) before becoming a "mailman" and poisoning half the marriages in town. On her rounds, she meets Guy De Vilbiss, world-famous poet, and his sycophantic wife Hilda; the pear-shaped Guy and sheeplike Hilda come across as unprepossessing freaks. Through this couple, the twins meet Conrad Lowe, who will be their nemesis. Most famous for the exposÉ of his mother, an evil Hollywood diva, Conrad is a manipulative sadist, " a ladies' man who hated ladies." While Dorcas reads him correctly, Abigail, though no masochist, falls in love with him, and Conrad relishes her as the perfect victim. On their honeymoon, Conrad chains the seriously overweight Abby to the bed and starves her. The marriage goes downhill from there, and Conrad even manages to humiliate the virtuous Dorcas sexually before Abby recovers her pride and runs Conrad over, eight times. Willett is trying for black comedy but doesn't find the right blend of light and dark. Abby's flip-flops, Dorcas's puzzling celibacy, and Conrad's dated, Noel Coward-like Waspishness just don't help. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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