A Certain Slant of Light

Cynthia Thayer, Author
Cynthia Thayer, Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-26132-0
Paperback - 276 pages - 978-0-312-27564-8
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A hermit opens his heart to love in Thayer's moving second novel (after Strong for Potatoes), which takes its title from a poem by Emily Dickinson. When a fire kills his wife, son and daughter, Peter MacQueen retreats to his coastal cabin in Maine, interacting with nobody except Dora, an old Passamaquoddy Indian, and his faithful pet, Dog. He also finds solace in his bagpipes, his few books and a mournful ritual involving his dead daughter's dollhouse, but a guilty secret relentlessly haunts him. A pregnant woman, Elaine, on the run from her cruel husband, shows up on his property, desperate for shelter from a winter storm; the two share a bittersweet healing. Initially irritated by Elaine's presence, Peter eventually opens a tentative crack in his emotional door. Elaine tells him about the miscarriage she suffered when she was a teenager and about the excruciating tensions of growing up with healthy hormones in a restrictive Jehovah's Witness environment. After Elaine's daughter is born and named Azelin--""Spared by Jehovah""-- Elaine must decide whether to stay or return to her husband. Thayer's tale is deeply poetic and quasi-Freudian, with the dollhouse in Peter's cabin serving as a potent symbol of the characters' unconscious desires. The other central motif is Elaine's pregnancy: ideas of renewal, fear and sacrifice in bringing forth new life come to the surface when it becomes clear that Azelin may need a blood transfusion, which Elaine's religion prohibits. If Thayer is heavy-handed with such themes, her characters are plainspoken and lucid as well as complex, and their progress toward emotional healing becomes an engrossing story with inspirational power. Agent, Sandy Choron. (Aug.)
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