cover image The Girl in the Box

The Girl in the Box

Ouida Sebestyen, Author Joy Street Books $12.95 (166p) ISBN 978-0-316-77935-7

A writer with a distinctive voice and a considerable narrative gift, Gilchrist ( Victory over Japan , Falling Through Space ) devotes her second novel to Anna Hand, met earlier in a story in the collection titled Drunk with Love ; most of the other characters here have also appeared in Gilchrist's previous books. Anna is a successful writer who is ``very beautiful, very rich and very spoiled.'' She also considers herself very lucky, an unconscious irony that fails to take into account her doomed marriages, inconclusive affairs and aching unhappiness over her ``empty troubled womb.'' When the novel begins, she is in bed with a lover; 12 and a half years later, having discovered she has cancer, she commits suicide. In between these two events we see Anna embracing life with passion and gusto, exercising her maternal instinct, her passion for meddling and her sexual appetite. Part II shows the family coming together for Anna's wake and Part III focuses on Anna's sister Helen, her literary executor, who achieves a liberating experience through Anna's papers. The Hand family springs to quirky life in Gilchrist's narrative, but the novel is disconcertingly uneven, largely due to the idiosyncracies of Gilchrist's prose style, in which pared-down simplicity sometimes becomes self-indulgent affectation. Yet Gilchrist excels in drawing the bonds of love and resentment in sexual and family relationships, and no one who encounters her charactershere or in her earlier workswill want to miss reading about them again. (October)