Stepsons

Robert Liddell, Author
Robert Liddell, Author Peter Owen Publishers $32.95 (228p) ISBN 978-0-7206-0853-3
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Reminiscent of Richard Rhodes's memoir A Hole in the World , this harrowing autobiographical novel by British novelist and critic Liddell ( The Last Enchantments ) portrays a mythically wicked stepmother in chilling detail. Andrew and Stephen Faringdon's long ordeal of psychological abuse begins in 1916, when Elsa Blankenheim traps their widowed father Oswald into marriage. Although at first the couple live in Egypt while Major Farringdon completes his tour of duty, once they return to London the boys join their household. Unable to bear a child of her own, their bullying stepmother showers the boys with ridicule, sarcasm and petty torments. Introverted and conciliatory, the children accept her treatment without retaliation; their well-meaning but weak-willed father chooses not to see their misery. Skillfully evoking the ambience of an upper-middle-class British household between the world wars, Liddell depicts with utter believability the horror of a merciless, vindictive persecution that ends only when the boys attain their majority and leave home. Never lapsing into self-pity, Liddell tells an agonizing tale with objectivity and irony. ( Nov. )
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