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Pinkerton's Sister


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About the Author

Peter Rushforth's first novel, KINDERGARTEN, won the Hawthornden Prize. He left teaching to write his second novel, PINKERTON'S SISTER, and is now working on his third. He lives in North Yorkshire.


Rushforth's pyrotechnic second novel (appearing 25 years after the publication of his acclaimed debut, Kindergarten) seeks to capture, in one day, the play of forces-literary, musical, medical and sexual-that made Edwardian New York society. At the center is Alice Pinkerton, nearly 35-year-old "spinster," the "madwoman in the attic" of Longfellow Park. Actually, she is not confined to an attic: she writes, goes to church and takes care of her mother. But these details are almost hidden in the deluge of Alice's inner life flowing over these pages, with a richness comparable to Leopold Bloom's in Ulysses. Alice, it appears, suffers from hypertrophy of childhood memories and a consequent emotional vacancy of adult experience. Does it stem from her discovery, at 20, of the body of her father, who committed suicide in his study? Perhaps the real key to Alice's condition goes back to twinned mysteries: the disappearance of her beloved childhood maid, and the source of her hatred for her father. Alice's fantasies and musings are stuffed with references to Shakespeare, 19th-century novels and poetry (particularly Stevenson's The Children's Hour, which exerts a surprisingly sinister influence in her life), opera and popular music; these are both buffers against reality and a means of mythologizing her neighbors. The flaw is that Rushforth has created no character in the book to counterbalance Alice; you sometimes feel that, in this mansion of a novel, you are locked in a small crowded closet. Agent, Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson. (Mar. 8) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Fin-de-siecle New Yorker Alice Pinkerton has heard the neighborhood boys refer to her as a "madwoman in the attic," yet she feels no urge to correct them. At 35, she has become the Emily Dickinson of upper-class Longfellow Park, scribbling her thoughts as they flow from a psyche both troubled and sharply aware of society's deception and hypocrisy. We spend a single, snowy day in the attic with Alice as she relates-often through the characters of Wilde, Poe, the Brontes, and Shakespeare-memories of people from her childhood, e.g., a young friend and house servant who is raped and made pregnant by Alice's father and Mrs. Albert Comstock, a gossipy society matron who draws Alice's silent ire at every turn. British novelist Rushforth (Kindergarten, winner of the 1979 Hawthornden Prize for Imaginative Literature) presents a dense, richly detailed novel with dashes of Joyce, Wharton, and E.L. Doctorow. Not every reader will take to the stream-of-consciousness style, but those who do will be rewarded. Recommended for large fiction collections.-Jenn B. Stidham, Harris County P.L., Houston Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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