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Erica Abeel, Conscience Point (Unbridled Books, 2008)

Conscience Point, Erica Abeel’s fourth book, is the story of concert pianist Maddy Shaye and her tumultuous fairytale marriage to Nick Ashcroft, her former best friend’s brother. Abeel adds credibility to the story by integrating an area she is well versed in, music, particularly the piano. The researched references to classical pieces and emotional connections to music add a somewhat more academic edge to a story that may otherwise be glossed over as just another novel about midlife epiphanies and turning points for women.

Abeel does, however, step into the sentimental, popular topic of realizing the meaning of motherhood, with realizations about her daughter, Laila, as well as the daughter of her longtime friend Sophie. Unanticipated subplots prevent this theme from becoming overly-sweet and overly-dominant in the book (e.g. the story of Laila’s real parents, Laila’s desire to work in Guatemala, and an uncomfortable pseudo-incestuous relationship between Laila and Nick).

There is a certain degree of idealization of men by Maddy, in both the glimpses of their youth, as well as the present story being told. This sometimes skewed perception of human beings—males, particularly—characterizes the fairytale that Maddy falls in love with. Almost nothing in the Ashcroft family is as it seems, as Maddy realizes during her friendship with Violet and her later relationship with Violet’s brother, Nick. Their lives intertwined during a college trip to Conscience Point, the Ashcrofts’s showy vacation home with crumbling foundations and a sparkling façade.

Abeel’s knowledge of New York City adds another element of authenticity, and acts as a grounding force throughout this melodramatic story. Everyone loves to read about the ups and downs of NYC, its eccentric people, neighborhoods, and familiar restaurants. New Yorkers themselves are particularly drawn to this setting, as we enjoy recognizing and identifying ourselves in the backdrop.

Tatiaana L. Laine

Rikki Ducornet, The One Marvelous Thing (Dalkey Archive, 2008)

orbidly personal and indivisible in their lethargic narcissism, Rikki Ducornet’s passings of time render a supple and seasoned reader. One Marvelous Thing swells as a collection of short stories, 29 blinding glimpses of a schizo-fertile memory.

Prior to her capture and subsequent “bondage of roasted meat and venomous alphabets,” Marie Angelique Leblanc lived in a savage dream world as “The Wild Child,” a feral youth who was once free to kill whenever she happened to thirst for blood. Ducornet shares the reticence of her Greystoke heroine, as both are seemingly susceptible to the guidelines of a “language”—an imposition toward which they quietly throw their own beautiful tantrums of revolt. From beneath this scintillating mantle of language, both are able to narrate and venture through longings, stagnant desires, and harmless servitude. With “The Wild Child,” Ducornet has authored a rare character of sinewy depth and misplaced naivety, a Heathcliff raised by hares.

In the tale of faux flattery, “Panna Cotta,” a cuckold chef with a mortician’s touch holds a feast, not in honor of his wife, but in her likeness. It forms a culinary rebuttal to what he determines to be her infidelity: “In the center, a panna cotta Lucinda crouches sphinxed, cuffed and socked in sashimis and lobster quenelles.” Each dish is a careful composition of morsels culled from enmity and scorn.

Ducornet unfurls the disparate demands of generational appetites in the discharming “La Goulue in Retirement:” at one time, the subject’s glamorous chatte was the toast of Paris; now in her life’s repose—with the heart of the city “beating without her”—La Goulue desires only a nap.

The patient reader is impressed that this is a writer who has studied the classics, dabbled in deSade, and immersed herself in Jacques Pepin; yet what she has managed to glean is not the important singularity of each, but the perfidy of their marginalia. Mrs. Ducornet is a gem and a certain talent. Her writings are tightly-wound packages, Albese truffles drowsing in the sweetness of filth.

Mark Du Mez


Tatiaana Laine

Mark Du Mez

Mark Du Mez is a writer of little consequence living in Manhattan. A handful of fairy tales comprise the totality of his work; they have been read by an even smaller handful.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2009

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