The Waking Spell: A Novel

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9780945575658: The Waking Spell: A Novel

When Sarah Grissom is seven years old, her brother adn her cousins--the Northgates--play a trick on her. They pretend there's a ghost in the attic of their grandmother's big, rambling East Texas house, and they take Sarah up to meet it. It's just a game for the others, but Sarah senses a frightening thing there, a presence. Is it a ghost? Without a doubt there is something--something cold, something deadly--lurking in the Northgate attic. Carol Dawson's "The Waking Spell" is a penetrating look at the specter that has haunted the women of this East Texas family since the late 1890s, when Sarah's vain, well-bred great-grandmother found herself plunged suddenly into a raw, rough-edged wilderness across the Red River from civilization. It was a place where no one understood manners, or proper sentiments, or refinement--where the only thing a proper lady could do was retreat into silence and secrets. Over the years, silnce and secrets have become an unspoken rule, an invisible bond of repression and frustration passed down from mother to daughter. In Carol Dawson's first novel, we follow Sarah's long journey hope through her family's history to confront the malignant silence that has haunted the lives of the Northgate women for nearly a century. Like Josephine Humphreys in "Dreams of Sleep," Carol Dawson writes of women struggling to find their own voices and identities in a male-dominated world of convention that punishes daring, stifles initiative, and encourages silence.

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About the Author:

Carol Dawson was born and raised in Texas, and has since lived in a variety of places --California, England, Italy, New Zealand, New Mexico, and Washington. During that time, she published three novels (The Waking Spell, Body of Knowledge, and Meeting the Minotaur) and a volume of poetry (Job). Dawson recently returned to her home state, where she is currently writing a history on the Maori people of New Zealand and is at work on her fifth novel.

From Kirkus Reviews:

First fiction that explores the simmering rage passed through four generations of emotionally stunted southern ``ladies''--an unusually confident and original debut that unveils the spiritual anesthetization behind the gracious feminine smile. When Sarah Grissom was seven, her older cousins led her to the forbidden attic of Grandmother Northgate's old house in East Texas to introduce her to the scary ghost they claimed resided there. Frightened but excited, Sarah never expected that, while her cousins played at shrieks and catcalls, she herself would actually experience the presence of a bone-chilling, anguished, unearthly presence. Sarah's awareness of the phantom continues to haunt her into adulthood, and leads to an exploration of the life of her genteel foremother, Eugenia Princess Burnham, who emigrated to Texas from Mississippi after the Civil War, and whose human sensibilities had been as deliberately and systematically crippled as an aristocratic Chinese woman's feet. Brought up to deny her own passion, curiosity, and sexuality--forbidden even to speak the words that referred to their existence--Eugenia and her female progeny learned to communicate with silence and innuendo, to smile when their husbands praised their purity, lightly to change the subject when the tiniest uncomfortable element entered any conversation. Such artificiality (exaggerated here, perhaps, for effect) leads to increasingly neurotic practices: Grandmother Princess Laura Northgate has her virginity taken surgically on her wedding day and gives birth by Cesarean section in an attempt to control her body's functions. Eventually, though, change invades even East Texas: daughter Grovana Princess manages to flee, opening a door for her own daughter, Sarah, to outrun her heritage. Sarah does escape, but many years later--strengthened by education and travel and having weathered two suicides, a teenage pregnancy, and a mental breakdown in her own generation of females, she returns to free, in the face of her cousins' timid skepticism, the spirit of the Northgates from bondage. A nearly perfect first novel--courageous, revelatory, and, in the end, deeply moving. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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