Picks and Pans Review: The Mourners' Bench

updated 11/09/1998 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/09/1998 01:00AM

by Susan Dodd

Susan Dodd's fifth book, touted as her breakout novel, is a beautifully written but often frustrating tale of love and salvation.

When failed middle-aged poet Wim Cantwell is diagnosed with cancer, he leaves his Massachusetts home to rejoin the only woman he has ever really loved. Leandra, 31, his late wife's younger sister, lives in North Carolina, where she mends-dolls in a shack. The two haven't spoken in 10 years, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Leandra will mend Wim—and vice versa.

Though Dodd paints vivid landscapes, her characters are less convincing. Leandra often sounds like a Beverly Hillbilly, and Wim's tendency to think in italicized (but unattributed) excerpts from famous poetry will distract anyone unfamiliar with his sources. Still, despite these annoyances, Dodd makes it difficult not to care about their painful yet peculiarly healing journey. (Morrow, $24)

Bottom Line: With patience, readers will find this a compelling love story

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