cover image The End of Alice

The End of Alice

A. M. Homes. Scribner Book Company, $21.5 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-684-81528-2

Like recent novels by Susannah Moore and Joyce Carol Oates, Homes's latest (after her A Country of Mothers) is a literary serial-killer novel, by turns sensational and clever, smutty and powerful. It is told as a prison confession, by a notorious but unnamed pedophile in his 23rd year at Sing Sing who has begun to receive letters from a depressed, rebellious (and also unnamed) 19-year-old. Trapped at home in Scarsdale for the summer, boxed in by her callous suburban parents, she acts out the turmoil and anomie of nascent adulthood by embarking on a salacious affair with a 12-year-old male neighbor. Her voice emerges in short, quizzical letters to the narrator. But, as refracted through his self-consciously mannered, feverish and puerile imagination, it's impossible to tell where she ends and he begins: her precocious erotic acrobatics resemble his rough jailhouse sex; her raunchy paeans to pubescent flesh echo his carnal obsessions. Her letters also prompt the narrator to remember his own abuse by his mother and his gruesome murder of Alice Sommerfield, a 12-year-old who, he claims, seduced him. With its allusions to Lolita and Lewis Carroll, this is a lurid but weirdly arch page-turner that may prove too unsavory for all but the most jaded readers. Author tour. (Mar.)