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BLACK OXEN

Elizabeth Knox, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $25 (400p) ISBN 978-0-374-11405-3

A woman's attempt to find her elusive and complicated father lies at the heart of this novel by New Zealand writer Knox. As fans of her previous book (The Vintner's Luck) are aware, Knox's lush, hyperinventive storytelling is anything but traditional, and this time-traveling tale is as exuberantly unorthodox as its predecessor. In the year 2022, Carme Risk lives in northern California and is undergoing narrative therapy to better understand her life and her father's influence. Told through the journal entries of Carme and her father, the story spans 40 years and involves many shifts in time and place. There is the Eden of Carme's father's adolescence (a place reminiscent of the Scottish highlands), where young Carme spent her first years with an extended family and her father's lover, Dev. Then there is the poor Latin American country of Lequama, where Carme's father is a confused revolutionary, unsure of how he became a local legend. The California settings are equally fantastic, depicting the exploits of Carme's half-sister Fidela, a child television star, and Edwin Money, an elderly billionaire who engages their father for some mysterious work. Throughout, Carme must wrestle with an unsettling question: is her father fully human or some species of otherworldly being? With this wealth of creativity and tales spun within tales, it's fortunate that Knox's prose—poetic and precise—features no indulgent pyrotechnics. And despite the many detailed digressions, the overall themes of family and identity possess an internal logic. This isn't for the unadventurous, but readers eager for total immersion will be delighted by Knox's highly imaginative and entertaining world. (July)

Forecast:The understated jacket art—a mask on a black background—doesn't adequately express the roiling drama within. This is a perfect book for literary readers with a taste for the fantastic, but will require careful handselling.

Reviewed on: 06/25/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
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FORMATS
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-312-42049-9
Hardcover - 503 pages - 978-0-86473-409-9
Hardcover - 447 pages - 978-0-7011-7278-7
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