The Evening Wolves

Joan Chase, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $18.95 (295p) ISBN 978-0-374-15003-7
The publication of her stunning first novel, In the Reign of the Queen of Persia , announced Chase as a brilliantly talented writer. This second book confirms her virtuoso skill with language; nearly every sentence startles with dazzling imagery and poignant insights. Mercurial, hot-tempered, grandiloquent, impetuous and generally impecunious Francis Clemmons is raising his motherless children Margy, Ruthann and Tommy, their lives a procession of shabby apartments in the rundown sections of different Southern towns. Domineering and manipulative, alternately bullying and charming the girls, he plays them against each other, encouraging their rivalry for his attention and love. When they were little, he initiated a peculiar, cruel game of big bad wolf, deliberately luring his daughters into his arms and then hurting them--(``Every little girl wants to play with the wolf, wants to see if she can get the best of him'')--ostensibly to teach them the meaning of life. When Francis marries a young widow, Gloria, she too becomes a pawn in his self-indulgent gamesmanship, which serves to keep his family in perpetual, high-velocity turmoil. Chase is masterly at revealing personality through her articulate characters' dialogue. The novel's point of view moves among the siblings and their stepmother, each relating events and making trenchant observations about the family synergistics. Francis, the man who pulls the strings, is never heard from in his own voice, although his speech patterns are repeated through his childrens' unconscious mimicry. Though coherent and involving for most of its length, the narrative loses some momentum toward the end, when the girls finally move out of their father's mesmerizing control. Here the narrative voices tend to become histrionic and the interlocking segments too episodic. On the whole, however, this is a magnificently involving, imaginative and memorable novel, a portrait of a family painted in vivid, indelible colors. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/30/1989
Release date: 05/01/1989
Mass Market Paperbound - 978-0-345-36285-8
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