THE LIFE BEFORE HER EYES

Laura Kasischke, Author
Laura Kasischke, Author . Harcourt $24 (288p) ISBN 978-0-15-100888-9
Reviewed on: 01/14/2002
Release date: 02/01/2002
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Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-15-602712-0
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Acclaimed poet Kasischke applies her lyrical skills to fiction in this double portrait of Diana McPhee as 40-year-old wife and mother and 17-year-old girl. As in her earlier novels (White Bird in a Blizzard and Suspicious River), here Kasischke's precise imagery and the languid, dreamy pace capture the poignancy and sluggish awakening of late adolescence, though they are at odds with the harsh tale that unfolds. Blond Diana and dark Maureen, regarding their images in the high school bathroom mirror, jolt from their teenage dreams at the sound of gunfire. Their attacker is fellow student Michael Patrick, who laughs as he delivers a horrible ultimatum: one girl will live and one will die; each has a moment to choose. Maureen offers herself, and the sacrifice is accepted—or so it seems. As the past begins to contaminate Diana's safe suburban life with her beautiful daughter and loving husband, it becomes clear that this future is the result of her imagination constructing a life she may never live in the moments before Patrick releases the safety on his gun. Kasischke is at her best writing about young women—urgently sexual, childishly careless. This song of innocence and of experience reads like a fairy tale gone drastically wrong, the sensibility heightened by Kasischke's emphasis on language. Despite the poignancy of the central moral conflict (her or me?), its resolution is made secondary to the novel's stylistic imperatives and, as a result, the story loses much of its power. Still, it will please readers who were mesmerized by The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides and other tales of teenage reverie. 10-city author tour. (Feb.)

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