Picks and Pans Review: A Coven of Women

updated 08/31/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/31/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Jean Brody

The opening section of this second novel by a California writer is flawless. We are introduced to a grand, unforgettable character: "My Aunt Vida was six years old when she began collecting dead people." The child Vida asks her father to write for her on a scrap of paper some key sentences about her grandmother who has just died. Vida puts these in a box and then, whenever she wants to recall this wonderful old woman, all she has to do is open it. Vida becomes an extraordinary teacher, touching many lives profoundly, including that of her niece, Megan. From Vida, Megan inherits that box and starts her own collection of spirit boxes. In chapters that seem more like scarcely connected short stories, this novel then describes the lives of eight more women. Some are related—mothers or daughters or sisters—and their spirits take on a real existence in their boxes. Some of their lives are gothic tales. Others seem foolish, focused on California trendiness. The gathering of all the women at the end seems farfetched, as if Brody had lost control. None of the rest of the book lives up to the promise of its first beautiful 18 pages. (Atheneum, $15.95)

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