cover image Enchantment of Lily Dahl

Enchantment of Lily Dahl

Siri Hustvedt. Henry Holt & Company, $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4920-6

Set in a small Minnesota town whose entire population appears to consist of slightly ominous eccentrics, Hustvedt's second novel (after 1992's The Blindfold) presents a coming of age story with Kafka-esque trappings and a mystery veneer. Lily Dahl, 19, is an aspiring actress who works the early morning shift as a waitress at the Ideal Cafe, where her considerably offbeat regulars include the stuttering and intense Martin Petersen, whom she's known since childhood. Lily takes up with Edward Shapiro, an artist from New York who has separated from his wife and is doing a series of portraits of local misfits. While Lily is busy attending rehearsals for her role in A Midsummer Night's Dream and getting acting lessons from her elderly neighbor, there are multiple sightings of a man carrying a woman's corpse around town. As Lily becomes increasingly convinced that young Martin is at the root of the bizarre events, she puts herself at risk to find out the truth. In the end, however, Hustvedt's plot is far simpler than it originally appears, and the somewhat forced strangeness of her characters' behavior may make some readers feel that the narrative is simply contrived. The novel is much stronger as a coming-of-age tale than it is as an existential mystery, however, and Hustvedt has created a charming and scrappy heroine in Lily Dahl. (Author tour.) (Sept.)