cover image Can't Quit You, Baby

Can't Quit You, Baby

Ellen Douglas. Atheneum Books, $0 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-689-11793-0

Those encountering Douglas (a pseudonym for Josephine Haxton, an acclaimed Mississippi writer) for the first time in this remarkable novel will want to read everything she has written. Set in Mississippi during the 1960s and '70s, the narrative at first seems simply the story of two womenCornelia and her black maid Julia (called Tweet by everyone but Cornelia). Initially, Tweet's is the more dramatic tale, featuring a kindly grandfather, a blackguard father, money hidden in a tree, adultery, blatant racismall related with wonderful detail and suspense. A more reserved, Southern ``lady'' who has insulated herself from the unpleasant aspects of life, Cornelia, in her 40s, has become deaf, which isolates her from her husband, two children and the real world. She begins a painful coming to terms, when her vision of life as a fairy tale (stemming from her Rapunzel-like rescue from a tower by the man she eventually married over her mother's objections) is shattered suddenly and tragically.. In a beautifully woven narrative whose complexity is only gradually revealed, the author shows how ``layers of circumstance and imagining,'' reality and illusion, inextricably entwine one individual with another. Powerful, poignant and wise, this novel surely confirms Douglas as one of our most important writers. (July)