A Keeper of Sheep

William Carpenter, Author
William Carpenter, Author Milkweed Editions $21.95 (328p) ISBN 978-1-57131-000-2
Paperback - 328 pages - 978-1-57131-007-1
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Award-winning poet Carpenter's ( The Hours of Morning ; Rain ) entertaining, often moving first novel is a coming-of-age saga reminiscent of Mona Simpson's The Lost Father and Brock Cole's Celine . Penelope, nicknamed Penguin, disfigured by a birthmark and additionally scarred by her parents' divorce, has retreated behind a screen of extremist politics. Technically adult at 20 but still a child in many respects, Penguin is expelled from Dartmouth for setting fire to a fraternity house where another student has been raped. She returns to her father's Cape Cod home, where his next-door neighbor, a writer, hires Penguin to care for his AIDS-stricken lover. She forms a friendship with the dying Arnold just as the wealthy beach community decides that his presence is a threat. For the first time, Penguin sees a political debate in terms that are not abstract. With relentless, crackling dialogue, Carpenter creates a perceptive narrator who is by turns annoying, funny and wise, and surrounds her with characters whose believable interdependencies suggest an extended family of the '90s. While some scenes involving the younger characters are stereotypic, the author generally exerts firm control over his sensuous, highly textured prose, which unfolds with grace and sometimes heartbreaking accuracy. Author tour. (Aug.)
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