Through the Ivory Gate

Rita Dove, Author
Rita Dove, Author Pantheon Books $21 (278p) ISBN 978-0-679-41604-3
Reviewed on: 09/28/1992
Release date: 10/01/1992
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-679-74240-1
Prebound-Glued - 978-0-606-17753-5
Prebound-Other - 978-0-613-23518-1
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In her first novel, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Dove ( Grace Notes ) covers territory familiar from her poems. Virginia King, a talented young black woman, returns to her hometown of Akron, Ohio, as artist-in-residence at an elementary school. The story moves back and forth between the present, which finds her teaching puppetry to children, and her past, which includes memories of a constricting community and family life and the liberation offered by college and her stint with a communal puppet theater. Poets turned novelists often rely too heavily on lyricism and imagery to sustain them, to the detriment of plot and exposition; Dove, however, leans a little too far in the opposite direction. The narrative is smooth and accomplished, but takes few risks. The climactic love scene, for example, ends in the disappointment of cliche (``When he touched her again their bodies merged into one long, yearning curve, and the sea rose up to meet them''), and the novel's single real surprise, a revelation of incest, is less shocking than puzzling and unprepared for. Virginia seems to gain knowledge--without being deeply changed by it. Dove could have experimented more daringly with her obvious narrative gifts. (Oct.)
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