The Sailor's Wife

Helen Benedict, Author Zoland Books $24 (294p) ISBN 978-1-58195-024-3
A girl from the suburbs of Miami marries a Greek sailor in the merchant marine and runs away with him to Ifestia, a remote Mediterranean island, in this vivid if overheated novel by Benedict (Bad Angel). The year is 1975, and 20-year-old Joyce has been living the life of a Greek peasant woman for two years, lodged with her husband Nikos's parents while Nikos is at sea. Whereas before she painted her toenails and read romances, now she milks goats and sells vegetables at the village market. Her beautiful but spoiled Nikos is gone for months at a time, returning home to complain that Joyce has still given him no son. Joyce, in turn, works hard during the day, suffering the misogyny and superstitions of her adopted home, writhing in lonely desire at night. Yet she finds the rhythms of island life fulfilling, and her in-laws' harsh love more satisfying than the suburban emptiness she knew before. She endures until she meets Alex Gidding, an Englishman with Greek family, and is reminded of the freedoms women enjoy elsewhere. From their first encounter, the novel accelerates, as Joyce struggles to resist Alex's seductions, remain loyal to her new family and, most importantly, define and accept who she is and what she wants. Benedict's prose is lyrical, though it flirts with clich : Nikos's muscles ripple ""like contented animals,"" and whitewashed houses resemble melted sugar. Most rewarding is Benedict's description of Ifestia, which is rendered as simultaneously familiar and strange, populated by a complex people who speak in epic cadences, are filled with conflicting emotions and are haunted by a bloody national history. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
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