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? S ' emews^L 1 ;??/ by Julia Alvarez Algonquin, 309 pp., 1997, $18.95 Julia Alvarez' first two novels, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies, explore with pathos and humor the political plight of two Dominican families, the Garcías and the Mirabals . ¡Yol is a less politically charged continuation of the Garcia saga, but the Garcías do find a spy of sorts in their midst: Yolanda García, more familiarly known as "Yo." Yo is a writer who uses her own family as fictional fodder. This, of course, causes the Garcías much distress and confusion; her sisters find themselves inadvertently quoting their characters, and her mother threatens to sue her. But Yo's encounters with her family are only a small part of the story. The novel, which spans Yo's life from her childhood to the present, is a collection of observations about Yo from family, friends, lovers, and even a stalker. The portrait that emerges is of a woman who carelessly plunges into several marriages , yet gingerly and patiently forges a complicated relationship with her stepdaughter. The Yo that is described in the first half of the novel is infuriating and ingratiating, honest in her writing but often dishonest in life. Unfortunately, Alvarez does not sustain this multidimensional characterization of Yo. Yo's encounters with her domestically abused landlady and an illiterate Dominican farmer are resolved too neatly; her ability to help them turn their lives completely around seems out of character for a woman whose own life is constantly in chaos. Such easy resolutions are also a somewhat contrived means of presenting Yo as a sympathetic character. Yet what makes Yo so engaging for the majority of the novel is that she isn't saintly; her artistic gift doesn't grant her moral authority over others. Also troubling is that Yo is the most static character in the novel. One of the strengths of Alvarez' previous works was her deft handling of many speakers whose points of view both reinforced and contradicted one another, resulting in stories which were at once personal and sweeping. In comparison, ¡Yo! is an entertaining read and an interesting examination of the personal toll writing takes on those who find their own lives fictionalized, but the novel ultimately lacks the lingering emotional impact of Alvarez' prior work. (KL) 206 · The Missouri Review A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne Algonquin, 1997, 285 pp., $17.95 This startling debut novel presents a wholesome neighborhood in Maryland as a microcosm of the Watergate Era. The protagonist, Marsha, is an eerily observant ten year old whose peculiar misinterpretations of the problems surrounding her are byproducts of this time of calamitous social change. Though the book's title primarily refers to the murder of a twelve-year-old boy from Marsha's presumably safe community, it also describes a multitude of other events that take place in the course of the novel: Marsha's father's affair with her eccentric aunt; his neglect of the family at a time when everything around them seems to be failing apart; and the scandals occurring right around the corner in Washington , D.C., which provide a backdrop for the story. A naive child surrounded by symbols of domestic and political turmoil, Marsha is overwhelmed by the question , "Why do people hurt each other?" Fascinated and frustrated with the confusing mechanics of pain, she records clues concerning the murder and other neighborhood "crimes" in a painstakingly detailed notebook. Recalling the start of this project, she remarks, "I had never realized our house contained so many damaged things. Soon it seemed I couldn't look at anything without finding something wrong with it." This statement foreshadows the paranoia with which Marsha comes to view her entire neighborhood, as she dedicates herself to monitoring the trivial activities of particular neighbors. The adults in this story, much like Marsha, are propelled by fierce determination and a lack of understanding . When news of the boy's murder breaks, several fathers establish a "Night Watch," in which they take turns patrolling the community in a futile search for evidence . Marsha's next door neighbor...


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pp. 206-219
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