cover image Now You See Her

Now You See Her

Whitney Otto / Author Villard Books $20 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-41

Just as Otto's How to Make an American Quilt arranged details of disparate lives so they came together in a quilt-like literary pattern, her second novel is given cohesion by one basic notion--illusion. The insecure central character, Kiki Shaw, is single and nearing 40 when she notices that she's becoming transparent. As she plays gin with friends, she imagines they can see the suit of a card through her thumb; she watches a cat walk through her leg. Kiki's insubstantiality mirrors the figurative invisibility of several other women: her widowed mother, so accustomed to solitude that she forgets her manners when people are present; another woman who molds her personality to suit each new beau; a married man's mistress who stays out of sight until called upon; and the same man's wife, who pointedly ignores his infidelity just as he has ignored her for years. Kiki, a trivia buff who compiles categories for a game show, hopes to find an explanation for these dissolutions somewhere in her encyclopedic knowledge; she begins collecting notes on the heart, on the moon, on scientific and mathematical objects with sentimental or mystical connotations. One character comments that ``ephemera. . . are the abstractions that rule our lives, and aren't time and money just another way of saying music and math?'' This methodical deconstruction of symbol and substance at first seems detached but gradually, even magically, unfolds to yield another of Otto's intricate, intimate tapestries. Author tour. (Apr.)