A Child Out of Alcatraz

Tara Ison, Author Faber & Faber $22.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-571-19910-5
The narration of Ison's first novel alternates smoothly between the life of Vivian Goodman, a child of liberal Jewish parents who winds up in an imprisoning marriage, and a journalistic history of Alcatraz. The parallel story lines cross when Vivian's husband, Arthur Thornton, back from WWII with a disability, becomes a prison guard at Alcatraz and moves the family, including two children and one on the way, to the island housing the infamous federal penitentiary. Using the motifs of silence, hysteria and rebellion, Ison juxtaposes the imprisonments of the penitentiary with those of a souring domestic life. Slowly, the destinies of the prison and the Thorntons are joined in a malignant symbiosis. Just as Attorney General Robert Kennedy, in 1963, finally shuts down the atrocity Alcatraz has become, the Thornton family rushes toward a finality of its own. Arthur's disintegration from prospective law student to a brutal enforcer reaches its completion while Vivian, at her lowest ebb, dimly remembers the light of her childhood--and rebels. Ison has a gift for framing scenes in a powerfully condensed manner, and her decision to humanize Arthur's descent is wise, although reader sympathies will remain firmly in Vivian's corner. The fearsome plight of the Thorntons' daughter, Olivia, who was born on the island in 1945 and who narrates much of the novel, is never simplified. It's through her radiant consciousness that Ison's novel achieves a natural, basic morality. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/31/1997
Release date: 04/01/1997
Paperback - 266 pages - 978-0-571-19940-2
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