The Golden Rope

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, Author Alfred A. Knopf $25 (0p) ISBN 978-0-394-58821-6
A seasoned risk-taker in imagining lives outside the framework of her own experience (among her highly praised characterizations are a Holocaust survivor in Anya and soldiers in Vietnam in Buffalo Afternoon), Schaeffer here burrows into the minds of identical twin sisters, Florence and Doris Meek. With imaginative virtuosity, she illuminates the personality traits that make one twin resolve to be free of her mirror image and the other cleave to her sister in the belief that they are one spirit in two bodies. When famous artist Florence Meek disappears from her secluded house in Provence, leaving behind a philandering husband and a grieving cult of ""Florentines,'' who worship her so-called White Paintings, she also deserts her twin Doris back home in America. Moreover, Florence has effectively annihilated Doris by claiming that she has no relatives. Doris's heartbroken reflections and Florence's melodramatic journal entries alternate in the narrative. The pattern of Florence's deadly rivalry with her sister gradually becomes clear, as does Doris's passivity and selfless patience. When, 20 years after the disappearance, Doris finally decides to pursue the mysteries of Florence's life, she discovers some disquieting possibilities. Schaeffer's beautifully inflected prose has an affinity with visual art; rich sensory details and vivid imagery give her sentences an almost tactile quality. She is less successful in making her protagonists entirely credible: Florence may strike readers as too harsh, selfish and intense, while Doris is too shadowy and clinging. Similarly, the narrative is both overwrought and insufficiently dramatic; though a torrent of turbulent emotion is expressed on the page, there is a lack of intrinsic energy to move the story. Toward the end, however, when Doris finally acts decisively, the suspense accelerates and readers will be rewarded with a denouement that helps crystallize the essential question of identity while leaving the central mystery elusive. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/03/1996
Release date: 06/01/1996
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 371 pages - 978-0-449-91284-3
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