cover image The PowerBook

The PowerBook

Jeanette Winterson. Alfred A. Knopf, $24 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41111-3

Composed in tight, spare prose echoing Web communications, Winterson's seventh novel takes its cues from the Internet, where reality is implied but never inherent. Like the protagonist of her previous novel, Written on the Body, narrator Ali is not defined by sex. An Internet writer, she/he creates stories for people, offering ""Freedom, just for one night,"" allowing her e-mail clients to be whoever they want to be. In return, they are required to understand that, like customers at Verde, the famous old costume shop in London where Ali lives, they may enter as themselves and leave as someone else. Such is the transformation Ali undergoes after a brief liaison in Paris with a married woman. Falling desperately in love, Ali follows the unnamed woman to Capri and attempts to convince her to leave her husband. Entwining this love story with accounts of Turkish tulip bulbs disguised as testicles, and tales of Lancelot and Guinevere, Winterson treads a slippery slope between linear storytelling and multidimensional cyberfiction. Most conventional, but also most egregious, is a digression recounting Ali's childhood as the adopted daughter of scrap-yard owners who are terrified of straying out into the Wilderness (the real world), but still hope that one day their daughter will find the Promised Land that exists in the heart. Winterson's dashing, sensually stylish writing is marred by heavy-handed symbolism, but the concept of transformation is adeptly juggled throughout. The brightly colored jacket, featuring two suggestively limp tulips, plays directly to the sensibility of Winterson's many fans. (Nov. 3)