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on March 08, 2012 :
What jolted me awake on the first page was the prose and the character-depth; then Rose won me over and I had to read to the end. The prose is often more ordinary, and at times her experiments, for me, went wrong; but she can write.
Rose is a mad old lady. Not mad in the intellect, as she tells herself once almost for sure - it's her emotions that have gone mad (in a lesser way this has happened to me and I made that distinction). Still, she's crazed; she abandons her house with its memories, she packs a bag and there she is, a bag lady. When we meet her she can't stand to sleep indoors. Because the inside of her head is a rant she rants at other people; she's rude even to the sympathetic, and the writer tells you intimately why.
I think Sophie the librarian is meant to be conventional in every respect, except that she fell in love with Barbara: this gives her a little practice and the ability, later on, to question and defy other conventions. It's a chisel to open her mind - just a crack at first - rather as E.M. Forster designed the character of Maurice. Sophie's grief for dead Barbara, and the fact she cannot even tell her workmates she's in grief, are terrible for us to experience. I ought to warn you about the tragedy in the book.
Zak, a fourteen-year-old girl, didn't convince me the way the others did, and Rose remained the most original.
These three, two women and a girl, are thrown together, and the book's about what comes of that. The setting is Chicago 1968. On every street corner there's a prejudice: black/white; we're in a Polish neighbourhood, with much on when and how you use Polish, use English; the homeless; Sophie who doesn't call herself a lesbian; the hippy guys' treatment of the hippy girls is woeful. Then there are the humane, like Jake who gently and most steadfastly stands up to officialdom and the police, as only the runner of a soup kitchen knows how; and of course Rose.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)