cover image The Tempest of Clemenza

The Tempest of Clemenza

Glenda Adams / Author Faber & Faber $22.95 (312p) ISBN 978-0-5

Australian writer Adams (Dancing on Coral) has a deserved reputation in her home country as a magical storyteller, but her current work, a brave but muddled mishmash of interlocking novels within novels, may not persuade American readers of her talent. Utilizing portentous flashbacks and flashforwards, narrator Abel Chase relates the circumstances of her life, focusing on the day of her teenaged daughter's death and ranging among other memories to reveal the ""terrible things in our past''--an unhappy marriage, a vicious kidnapping--that she has withheld from the fatally ill Clemenza. The saga begins and ends in Ludlow, Vt., where Clemenza celebrates her 13th birthday and then succumbs to her illness, but the main events have occurred in Australia. In addition to her own life story, Abel intersperses a diary written in 1956 by an Australian teenager named Cordelia Benn, whose entries suggest a bizarre family secret. Moreover, Cordelia herself was writing a mystery novel whose chapters alternate with her diary (it is authentically naive and correspondingly tedious), and she also includes yet another manuscript--this one quite melodramatic--by a mysterious author. These various narratives give Adams an opportunity to riff on the nature of fiction, but she takes too long to tie the many plot strands together. The denouement leaves many details (such as the nature of Clemenza's illness) annoyingly vague while indulging in truly far-fetched coincidences. Much of this complex novel is imaginative, thoughtful and intelligent, but eventually the plodding passages dealing with Cordelia's life overwhelm the narrative, and one wishes that Adams had jettisoned some of her subplots and had concentrated instead on Abel and Clemenza's tragic tale. (Oct.)