cover image The Paper Wife

The Paper Wife

Linda Spalding. Ecco Press, $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-88001-453-3

The clear, lyrical surface of Spalding's luminous second novel (after Daughters of Captain Cook) belies the powerful story it relates. Set in Colorado and Mexico, the complex but concise tale traces the close friendship of two girls: beautiful, wealthy, self-possessed Kate; and Lily, whose impoverished background and unhappy upbringing makes her covet the life of her privileged friend. While attending college during the Vietnam War years, Kate falls in love with Turner, a free spirit. Their relationship makes Lily feel spurned by Kate and obsessed with Turner until, at an all-night party, Lily accosts a drunken Turner while wearing Kate's clothes and-thus disguised-sleeps with him. She discovers she is pregnant, and her shame at her betrayal prompts her to flee to an ""orphanage"" in Mexico, where she can have the baby out of sight and give it up for adoption. The narrative structure gives the novel much of its immediacy. Lily's first-person account of her harrowing journey to Mexico (where the novel opens) and her subsequent life as an English teacher to orphans while she awaits the birth of her baby, is woven together with her previous life and history in Colorado. In a fascinating turn of events, Turner, acting on Kate's advice, goes to Mexico in search of Lily. Throughout, Spalding's elegant prose evokes Mexico as a pure sensory experience. The novel's finale is surprising and breathtaking-yet thoroughly earned by Spalding's full, sympathetic exploration of Lily's troubled character. (Apr.)