Pinkerton's Sister

Rushforth, Peter

Published by Anchor Canada
ISBN 10: 038566348X / ISBN 13: 9780385663489
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Synopsis: Though her neighbors in turn-of-the-century New York consider her a madwoman in the attic, Alice Pinkerton’s mind is razor-sharp, honed by a restless imagination, years of reading, and a profound contempt for her surroundings. Like her namesake in Through the Looking-Glass, Alice has a mirror through which to enter a different world, only for her the mirror is literature. Heartbreakingly funny and fiercely intelligent, Pinkerton’s Sister is an extraordinary work of imagination about imagination, a celebration of the power of fiction and its ultimate redeeming quality.

Review: Within the bounds of realism, a more fantastic or original novel than Peter Rushforth's Pinkerton's Sister would be hard to imagine. Alice Pinkerton is a New York spinster of 1905, raised to join the middle-class matrons in her respectable, status-conscious neighborhood, but cursed from childhood with the gift of seeing through humbug. Her ecstatic immersion in English literature has only made things worse, so that by the age of 30, she is too clever, quirky, and dark-mustached to be anything but an object of scorn in the eyes of her peers. When not submitting to her psychologist's latest enthusiasms (she suffers his passing fancies for phrenology, massage, hot water immersion, cold water immersion, dream interpretation, cloud reading, and hypnosis) Alice occupies herself with word games and arabesques, indulging in lengthy fantasies of gender-reversal, spontaneous ballet, and other embarrassments for the doctors, clergymen, merchants, and matrons who patrol the social boundaries that keep bluestockings like Alice locked away as "madwomen," rather than writing and selling books.

There's very little in the way of plot in Rushforth's second novel (the first, Kindergarten, appeared to acclaim about 25 years ago), except for the piecemeal recollection of her childhood friendship with a black servant named Annie. Not much older than Alice herself, Annie was a worthy playmate who tried to protect Alice from her father and the never-spelled-out abuses he and a friend inflicted on them both. Alice's hatred of her father burns even hotter than her love of Annie, and she remains convinced he was responsible for Annie¹s disappearance and probable death. These passions--and a handful of other childhood memories--hold together an otherwise loose, disorderly sequence of satirical jokes and verbal flourishes and sometimes overly long frolics. Don't expect the rustling skirts and repressed emotions of a Merchant Ivory film. Pinkerton's Sister reads like an absinthe-fueled, all-night collaboration between Edith Wharton, Angela Carter, and Monty Python. --Regina Marler

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Pinkerton's Sister
Publisher: Anchor Canada
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Good

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