Iron Shoes

Molly Giles, Author
Molly Giles, Author Simon & Schuster $22 (240p) ISBN 978-0-684-85993-4
Hardcover - 377 pages - 978-0-7862-3078-5
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-684-85992-7
Ebook - 240 pages - 978-0-7432-1615-9
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Though they are monstrously selfish, Ida and Francis McLeod, the aging parents of the middle-aged protagonist of Giles's haunting first novel (after her short story collection, Rough Translations), are drawn with such nuanced understanding that one ends up as sorry for their shallow lives as for their daughter's crushed and battered psyche. The glamorous, alcoholic, self-indulgent Sorensens are too immature to be parents. They have cowed their daughter, Kay, once a promising pianist, into a frantically abject servant to their many whims and demands, to the detriment of both her own marriage and her abilities to nurture her young son. Over the years, Ida has suffered many ""accidents"" that have resulted in injuries and crisis surgery (her second leg has just been amputated), a perverse form of punishment of irresponsible Francis and of servitude for Kay. An assistant at a small local library in Northern California, Kay endures her mother's vicious asides and blatant manipulation, as well as her father's sarcastic wit. Unwittingly, Kay has married another cool, distant man; Victor, her husband, stays away from her in bed and refuses to engage in conversation. It's no wonder that she conceives a crush on a hunk, a painter whom she meets at the library. After her mother's medical condition goes downhill and her husband becomes even more remote, Kay smothers her feelings in alcohol, sweet foods and cigarettes, only dimly aware that she has willingly assumed the ""iron shoes"" she describes in a fairy tale she tells her son. Giles's psychological portrait of Kay is completely credible; it's easy to see Kay's lack of self-esteem as a reflexive response from her to chronic emotional abuse. None of this is as lugubrious as it sounds, because Giles's narrative is animated with zesty prose, whip-smart observations and a refreshing roster of minor characters. In spite of the dark terrain this novel navigates, it is a sparkling and witty account of one woman's belated coming-of-age. (Aug.)
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