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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 ...


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