Lizzie

Dorothy Shawhan, Author
Dorothy Shawhan, Author Longstreet Press $20 (0p) ISBN 978-1-56352-227-7
Reviewed on: 01/01/1970
Release date: 01/01/1955
Despite a promising start and rich historical detail, this first novel falters beneath the weight of its nearly three-dozen narrators, each of whom relates a different episode or opinion about Elizabeth Dunbar, the flamboyant daughter of a corrupt Mississippi governor whose eventful life ends in a state mental institution. Within a present-day frame in which a professor of women's studies and an antiques dealer discover Lizzie's diaries and papers, a wide array of the protagonist's friends, acquaintances and relatives relate short episodes in her life, from her birth in 1902 through her lifelong struggle for fulfillment to her death in 1968. Many of the narrators (including a young William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, as well as a stallion and a ginkgo tree) simply weigh in with testimony to Lizzie's unconventional spirit, dispersing narrative tension and thwarting character development until the story sinks into a catalogue of legends about the woman. Only once does this tragic Southern belle shine through as a character real enough to care about--in a late section presented as a diary entry, in which she speaks movingly of her life as a series of misguided personal choices. Here alone do we get a glimpse of the kind of complex character and story line that Shawhan might have created, but hasn't. Rights: Jed Mattes (Sept.)
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