Richard Bausch, Author . HarperCollins , $ 27.95 (656p) ISBN (672p) ISBN 978-0-06-019295-2

Two women who write—Lily Austin, a young wife living in Oxford, Miss., in the early 1990s, and Mary Kingsley, the real-life 1890s explorer and author of Travels in West Africa—are the dual protagonists of this novel by acclaimed short-story writer Bausch. Lily, the daughter of two Washington, D.C., actors, leaves college—and her best friend, Dominic, to whom she loses her virginity just before he realizes he is gay—to marry Tyler Harrison, her roommate Sheri Galatierre's half brother. The couple move to Mississippi and live briefly with the Galatierres, a wealthy, complicated, enveloping family. At first their stay is blissful, but when Lily tells Tyler that she is pregnant, he turns strangely distant. His explanation for his behavior, which comes just before the baby is born, threatens their marriage; meantime, a terrible accident devastates the whole Galatierre clan. Throughout it all, Lily is writing a play about Mary Kingsley, which makes for an uneasy segue to Kingsley's life. Kingsley is writing a diary addressed to an unknown future reader, through which readers are granted glimpses of the Kingsley family (particularly her favored but incompetent brother Charley), and Kingsley's travels—first to the Canary Islands, then to West Africa. Kingsley, a cult figure, is a tempting subject for fictional rendering, but devotees may take issue at Bausch's portrait of her, which leaves out much of her biting wit and casual savagery. Lily herself is a curiously static character, changing little from start to finish, though her relationship with the volatile Tyler is convincingly charged. The novel's unwieldiness can make it a laborious read, but a number of very good, lively scenes—particularly those involving the Galatierre family—lighten the journey. (Sept.)

Forecast:Bausch's novels have never been as consistently lauded as his short stories, and this novel may get the usual mixed reviews, but strong backing by HarperCollins—including a five-city author tour—should help sales.

Reviewed on: 09/09/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
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