Leila Murry is young, married, and working in a motel as a receptionist - and then as a prostitute. The seemingly random abuses and perils of her adult life parallel those Leila suffered as a child, and in reliving them she is uncertain whether she will survive them this time, or indeed, if she wishes to. This "extremely powerful debut" tells a story that is at once "profoundly disturbing but also resonant with hope and rebirth" -Los Angeles Times.
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A broken young woman living in bleak little Suspicious River, Michigan, compulsively reenacts the role of victim in the sexual and physical violence she witnessed and suffered as a child--in a chilling but elegant first novel by poet Kasischke. Leila Murray's life is grim even before she takes up small- time prostitution. At 24, she's a night clerk in the local Swan Motel (named after the white swans who breed endlessly on the banks of Suspicious River), is indifferently married to a boy who got her pregnant in high school, is sterile from an abortion, and is parentless, penniless, careless. As the novel opens, she's been turning tricks for $60 at the Swan and hoarding her profits for- -she's not sure what, though she longs for something; and one night she meets a local drifter named Gary in whose charm and vicious temper she senses a route to what she really wants. In increasingly frightening set pieces that leave the reader rapt, Gary slyly sets Leila up to be his working whore, servicing his friends, as Leila, believing herself loved, begins to relive the time 17 years before when she watched as her beautiful mother, then the same age Leila is now, was slashed to death by Leila's father's younger brother. Leila also recalls the series of men--teachers in parking lots, tradesmen in the woods, even the town minister--who seduced or raped her after her mother's death, practically under the nose of her enfeebled father, who soon died of a heart attack. Now, as she's kidnapped by Gary, robbed of her savings, and bound in a dark room while a line of his friends snakes though, she understands what she was saving her money for: a white casket, like her mother's. She almost gets her wish to die, but oddly--bleakly- -escapes back to the Swan Motel. Lyrical, suspenseful, rich in imagery--and grim. Those who like Joyce Carol Oates will love this one. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.Review:
In Suspicious River, Leila, the narrator, trades sex for money with countless men throughout the novel. The act of prostitution is removed from any social context, while sexual relations between men and women are described exclusively against a background of the historical oppression of women. Leila scoffs at the suggestion that she sells her sexual favors for money. . . . "The clock on the wall seemed to snap its cold hand forward each time he said money. . . . It's what anyone would think I was doing this for. But the money was nothing."
Leila's mother, sexually manipulated and eventually murdered by her brother-in-law, had also turned to prostitution, but her reasons for having done so are just as vague. Kasischke has Leila symbolically suffering the fate of all women as it has been handed down through the generations. This despite the fact that Leila does not need the money, and that her private and particular motive for selling herself remains obscure--her motive, in fact, belongs to history but not to her. A degrading and humiliating experience becomes a convenient literary conceit, a solipsism to which the project of "a female subjectivity experiencing and identifying itself" perhaps inevitably leads. That self-absorption makes possible the narrator's description of her own murder at the end of the novel--a conclusion that throws into doubt, to put it mildly, the entire novel's credibility. -- The Atlantic Monthly, Lee Siegel
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