The Persistence of Memory

Gordon McAlpine, Author Peter Owen Publishers $29.95 (156p) ISBN 978-0-7206-1047-5
From its initial event--the appearance of a mysterious stranger in an alternate Langsdon, Ky., circa 1901--this slender but heavy-handed novel places itself in the fable mode, part Cinderella, part Southern gothic. The stranger is an (apparently) drowned man, pulled from a stream by Elvia Witt, a laundress of significant local reputation. So voluminous is Elvia's laundry washing, in fact, that she lives in a home composed entirely of laundry, a structure Waldo, her ill-tempered husband, calls his ""linen castle."" Elvia and Waldo share the linen castle with their 14 children (named for the cardinal virtues and deadly sins), the most prominent of whom is an attractive young woman who, with typically hammed-up irony, is named Chastity. When the stranger comes mysteriously back to life, Elvia names him Farley LaRue, after a Shakespearean actor who had once been Elvia's lover. Jealous Waldo can't abide Farley, however, and the entire surrounding town of Sweetbriar soon feels his displeasure. The book features some charming imagery--the linen castle, a boy surrounded by 10,000 glass figures--but is beset by maddeningly literal symbolism. Each new layer, such as Farley's true identity, suggests that McAlpine (Joy in Mudville) holds little trust in the reader's ability to glean a point. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/03/1998
Release date: 08/01/1998
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