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Eve's Longing: The Infinite Possibilities in All Things.

Not many words are wasted in this slender first novel, which enacts the downward spiral of its uniquely disturbed and disturbing central character, Eve. The "downward spiral" is one of Eve's preoccupations, as she dreams and also experiences the near endlessness of free-fall again and again in this novel where the line between freedom and predestination, as between dreams and experience, is given a sustaining vibrational twang. The spiral is also an organizing premise of the book, which moves from New York City to Assisi and back to New York again with its heroine.

The events of the book's ending magnify the story of the death of Eve's mother, recounted briefly at the beginning of the novel. Inspired by her father, the head of a theological seminary, Eve (called the "apple of his eye") would rather sit out of her eighth grade gym class, taught by her mother, and reread the Republic. After refusing to hold the end of a rope for her mother's climbing demonstration, Eve endures the cruel spectacle of her mother's fatal fall from the top of an unsupportive spiraling rope. This prophetic physical tumble from on high seems to haunt Eve as she sleepwalks through both a stay in a Franciscan monastery and a graduate program in philosophy, unsustained but continuing to negotiate her relation to the texts and culture of her father.

Eve's most compelling dissertation idea is prospectively entitled "The Infinite Possibilities in All Things," and its central text is Eve's TOE, or theory of everything, summed up and diagrammed in the novel as "The Pearl String," a linear symbol of the infinite possible modes of existence. In this hallucinatory text, Eve periodically travels out along the string, looking back to the "first pearl" of practical existence, wherein her sister Clare remains, uncomprehending but holding domestic security and comfort out like a lantern for Eve's return. Like a female Quentin Compson, Eve wants to organize a linear narrative of and for a life of productive possibilities, but the trajectory of her story describes a spiral. She is radically preoccupied by infinite possibility, but her constitution is also inescapably overdetermined by her mythic name, her irrepressible body, and her history of losses.

An obsessional bather, Eve is forever apologetic for the phlegm, spit, and blood which constantly escape her, staining (whether in "fantasy" or "fact" is hard to say) pages of a Bible and her father's necktie. By heeding the metaphorical and actual itching of her body beneath its monastic robe, she proves "unfit" for the order of Saint Francis. In all her Beckettian trials of propriety and physical conformity, Eve is a failure. Like most Beckett heroes and some crazy people, she is tragic but lyrical and even humorous in her failures - as when she begins collecting and following the paths described by random bits of string, which the author has surrealistically planted all over Assisi. In an equally lucid and lunatic mode, Eve grieves the perfect outcome of an apple pie whose meticulous construction and "successful" baking was a test revealing that she'd fallen back to the "first pearl" existence. As she laid the spirals of fruit into the pie, she'd had hopeful visions of a panful of birds, or snow, or the image of Mary herself emerging from the oven - anything but the inevitable apples. That this penultimate scene - eve's potholdered "death grip" on the apple pie which her sister, with the help of a boyfriend, will innocently tuck away later - is not only intelligible and tragic but also funny is a tribute to McKay's lighthanded and highly versatile prose.

In a central temporal backspiral, Eve seems to confirm the Freudian premise that women, essentially materialists, cannot theorize. In Freud's terms, the flip side of the traditionally valorized, traditionally male preoccupation of philosophical theory is the feminized, narcissistic, hysteric's province of paranoia. As an example of inexpiable preoccupation, Eve is so disturbing that in her acknowledgments, McKay distances herself from her creation as she thanks another, her daughter, "my love for whom," she says, "was the primary thing that kept me from becoming Eve." The novel is meticulously, engagingly written, but the reader is left to wonder at the capitulation or catharsis implicit in allowing Eve to find her inexorable way along the path of self-destruction. Finally, I would call this a difficult piece of work, imaginatively acquitted; I await new narratives from this author with anticipation.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Author:Januzzi, Marisa
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
Words:735
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