cover image Whiteness of Bones

Whiteness of Bones

Susanna Moore. Doubleday Books, $17.95 (277pp) ISBN 978-0-385-26079-4

Returning to the Hawaiian setting of her highly praised first novel, My Old Sweetheart , Moore here evokes also the fashionably decadent milieu of the idle rich in 1980s Manhattan. Mamie Clarke grows up on the island of Kauai, desperately seeking the attention of her remote, ``benignly distracted'' mother. When she is 12, Mamie is sexually fondled by a trusted servant, a traumatizing event for which she feels she is to blame, and which leads her to despise her body and her femininity. Socially inexperienced and naive, at 21 she goes to New York to live with her scatty Aunt Alysse, one of a group of free-spending, indolent, vacuous, boozy and much-married womenall of them out to snare yet another man. Mamie is able to resist Alysse's meretricious values, but her younger sister Claire, who has reacted to their upbringing by becoming as irresponsible as Mamie is preternaturally guilty and responsible, eagerly enters into Alysse's sophisticated circle, where she falls prey to the drug culture. While Moore's spare but lyrical prose is compellingespecially when she describes the rhythms of island lifeher psychological portrait of Mamie eventually takes on an overwrought and rather hysterical tinge. Nonetheless, this is an engrossing novel, profoundly disturbing in its message of feminine guilt, yet satisfying in Mamie's eventual recognition of how to ``purify'' her soul. (Mar.)