cover image The Vinegar Jar

The Vinegar Jar

Berlie Doherty. St. Martin's Press, $21.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-312-14442-5

Berlie Doherty is best known as a children's author, and her first novel for adults has the otherworldly air of a creepy bedtime story. Unhappy and lonely, Rose Doran makes the mistake of falling in love with William, a glamorous young tap dancer whose hair is ""as shiny as his shoes."" Rose moves in with William, his mother and a baby that may or may not be his. But before long, the feckless hoofer dances off into the arms of a red-haired cinema usherette. Rose grabs the baby, Edmund, and soon settles into a sexless marriage with a man twice her age, the dull and steady Gordon. Isolated and craving affection, Rose turns to her next-door neighbor, Paedric, an eccentric ""gnome-like, bright-eyed man."" The plot becomes progressively darker and weirder as the two trade stories and Rose is pulled deeper and deeper into Paedric's parallel universe, gradually losing her grip on reality. Doherty's drama of codependent fantasy life perfectly replicates the foreboding quality of so many classic fairy tales, but it contains little of the beauty. She works traditional folk tales into her narrative at every turn, blurring the line between her story and all the stories that have come before. Frustrated by bleak reality, Rose submerges herself in make-believe, but Doherty's grim tale is a haunting reminder that the imagination isn't always the sanctuary it appears to be. Some dreams end badly. (Aug.)