cover image WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD: A Novel of Fame, Honor, and Really Bad Weather

WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD: A Novel of Fame, Honor, and Really Bad Weather

Jincy Willett, . . St. Martin's/Dunne, $23.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-312-31181-0

Willett's second book, after 1987's Jenny and the Jaws of Life (a collection of stories re-released last year with a foreword by David Sedaris), is a brilliant black comedy starring twins with antithetical dispositions and a handsome stranger with designs on both of them. Zaftig Abigail has turned promiscuity into an art form, while the literary, virginal Dorcas finds pleasure in the library—in its books, but also in the graffiti scrawled on its facade. Dorcas recounts Abigail's scandalous coming-of-age, marriage and eventual act of murder, weaving in excerpts from the book version penned later by Abigail and the sisters' friend, Hilda. Through Hilda and her writer husband, Guy, who considers Abigail "art itself," the twins become involved in a circle of artsy, intellectual and morally decadent friends. Abigail soon falls madly in love with Guy's old friend, the charming but sadistic Conrad, and ensnares herself in a destructive spiral of dieting, degradation and dependency. Through a fascinating interplay of violence and desire, Abigail's masochistic tendencies unfold (Dorcas had identified them as a teen: "I stopped hitting her only when I saw, through the stars of my rage, that she loved it"). It's hard to decide whom to cheer for most: Abigail for her triumphant revenge or Dorcas for her sense of humor, keen perception and restraint. Willett does a remarkable job of treating dark subject matter with shimmering playfulness, without diminishing its monstrosity. And embedded in her narrative is also a reflection on the subjective and sensual nature of written expression. Poignant and funny, mean and tender, Willett's novel is exuberantly original. (Oct.)

Forecast:No, it hasn't won the National Book Award yet, but the cheeky title may fool a few unsuspecting readers. The Sedaris imprimatur gave new life to Willett's first book; her second (selected by Anna Quindlen as a Book-of-the-Month Club judge's pick) looks likely to build handily on the first's success.