The Scissor Man

Jean Arnold, Author Doubleday Books $18.95 (287p) ISBN 978-0-385-41508-8
On the Central American island of Caracol, 12-year-old Octavia lives with her American mother and her Mayan Indian father, a physician in political exile. With the arrival of her mother's twin brother, Claude, and his 13-year old son, Julian, this melodramatic, erotically suffused novel becomes progressively more narrowly focused on Octavia's adolescent insecurities, which are exacerbated by her crush on Julian and Claude's sexual molestation of her. Octavia imagines Claude as the personification of the scissor man, who cuts off children's thumbs. When he begins abusing her she outwits him by switching bedrooms with her beautiful, mentally retarded sister, Maribel, whom Claude impregnates, triggering a family crisis and Octavia's lifelong guilt. Now 34, living in the U.S. and reluctantly pregnant, Octavia has feverish memories of her girlhood, which are unevenly interspersed in the narrative; her tortured musings on Maribel's death, her fear that Claude may reappear in her life and her contemplation of a return to Caracol indicate a soul in torment but do not evoke the reader's sympathy. While Arnold ( Prettybelle ) succeeds in conveying an exotic milieu and the seething emotions of an eccentric family, the narrative's overripe prose may prove too rich for some palates. Literary Guild alternate. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1991
Release date: 01/01/1991
Genre: Fiction
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