Misanthropic Alice is a budding eco-terrorist; Corvus has dedicated herself to mourning; Annabel is desperate to pursue an ordinary American life of indulgences. Misfit and motherless, they share an American desert summer of darkly illuminating signs and portents. In locales as mirrored strange as a nursing home where the living dead are preserved, to a wildlife museum where the dead are presented as living, the girls attend to their future. A remarkable attendant cast of characters, including a stroke survivor whose soulmate is a vivisected monkey, an aging big-game hunter who finds spiritual renewal in his infatuation with an eight-year-old–the formidable Emily Bliss Pickles–and a widower whose wife continues to harangue him, populate this gloriously funny and wonderfully serious novel where the dead are forever infusing the living, and all creatures strive to participate in eternity.
"This was no place to be tonight for any of them, but this was the place they were." Set in the Texas desert, the first new fiction in 10 years from the much-praised Williams (States of Grace) examines the thoughts and hopes of three motherless 16-year-old girls, exploring their connections to one another, to a large cast of difficult adults and to the ghosts that populate their lives. Williams's first chapters introduce her three protagonists--beautiful, grief-stricken Corvus; zealous Alice, always looking for "something that would give her a little edge or obscure the edge she already had, she didn't know which"; and Annabel, whose preoccupations with skincare and sweaters seems practical by comparison. Around this trio, other characters form a web of dependence, trust and mistrust--a web repeatedly broken by sudden violence. Annabel's father, Carter, lusts after his young Buddhist gardener, but carries on drunken, hostile conversations with the vindictive ghost of his dead wife. There's also stroke victim Ray Webb, a poetic young drifter; Sherwin, a piano player with a death wish; wealthy and bored big-game hunter Stumpp and the object of his affections, precocious and articulate eight-year-old Emily. All of Williams's people have lost something important, and all of them are spending time and energy with people they would not have chosen. Williams's psychology is subtle, her attention to teen diction superb. Like the Midwestern novelist Wright Morris, Williams gives her detailed, poetic novel an episodic, meandering structure, and the book ends without much resolution. But these are deliberate choices, made by an artist attentive to real people's psyches--and to how even our smallest decisions matter to others in ways we may never know. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.