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A mother's agonized attempt to help to her 19-year-old daughter Norah, a drop-out who now begs on a street corner with a sign saying "Goodness" around her neck, provides the framework for Shields's thoughtful and sensitive look at women's roles and the juggling acts they sometimes require. Reta Winters, a successful writer, believes at first that by writing a bright, perky novel about "lost children and goodness and going home," she will be "remaking the untenable world through the nib of a pen." But real life--and Shields's real novel--are, of course, much more complex than that.
Despite the support of her two younger and very caring daughters, her empathetic husband, her friends, and Danielle Westerman, the French feminist whose books she has translated, Kate nevertheless discovers that trying to help a child who will not be helped is a terrible loneliness to bear: "I need to know I'm not alone in what I apprehend, this awful incompleteness that has been alive inside me all this time." Evaluating her life as a wife, writer, friend, mother, and, increasingly, feminist, Kate allows us to share her inner life, both as it is revealed in her writing and as she wrestles with Norah's "hibernation" on the street corner.
Filled with dazzling images (an idea that has "popped out of the ground like the rounded snout of a crocus on a cold lawn" ; women who have been "sent over to the side pocket of the snooker table and made to disappear"), this Shields novel is more meditative than many of her other novels. "I've been trying to focus my thoughts on the immensity, rather than the particular," Kate/Shields says. As she inspires the reader to share this immensity, she provides insights into the essence of who we are and who we might become. Mary Whipple