Smithereens

Susan Taylor Chehak, Author
Susan Taylor Chehak, Author Doubleday Books $21.95 (312p) ISBN 978-0-385-47788-8
Reviewed on: 05/29/1995
Release date: 06/01/1995
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-671-56779-8
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In Chehak's darkly gripping new novel, May Caldwell, 16, narrates the grim yet lyrically told story of how pretty Frankie Crane, a 17-year-old orphan from Kentucky, enters May's life in small-town Iowa and turns it inside out. Seemingly ingenuous Frankie, who has been receiving contributions from the Caldwell family for years through a foster child program, arrives unannounced at their door. In short order she introduces May to pill popping, beer drinking, theft and sexual seduction. Only May's father suspects that Frankie's past has made her a desperate character. Despite his misgivings and May's knowledge that Frankie has a gun, the girl stays on with the family, to fatal effect. There's little that's new in Chehak's bad-girl-seduces-good-girl premise, and the conclusion of the two teens' deadly dance seems rigged for melodrama and shock. Young May's corruption is wholly persuasive, however, and cast in prose so precise that it seems cut with a scalpel (sneaking into the bathroom of an older man she admires, May finds ``the leathery, lemony smell of him, the feeling of his presence... solemn and silent, shaving with that razor, scattering exactly those loose splinters of his beard''). Throughout, the narrative surges back and forth like a nighttime tide via flashback, present events and foreshadowing, pulling the reader irresistibly along. That some teens yearn for both death and life is common knowledge; here, Chehak (Dancing on Glass)offers a compelling and revealing take on that disturbing truth. Author tour. (July)
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