Picks and Pans Review: Eating the Cheshire Cat

updated 03/20/2000 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/20/2000 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Helen Ellis

Probably not since Flannery O'Connor has a southern writer assembled such a gaggle of grotesques. In this coming-of-age novel by an Alabama-reared first-time author, the protagonists are: self-mutilating lesbian stalker Nicole; mealymouthed Bitty Jack, who confects pornographic patisserie; and most odious of all, sociopathic sorority sister Sarina, who is just as hateful as a wounded rattlesnake. If these three weren't sufficiently repellent, Ellis makes every other mother a gorgon and every other boyfriend a freak. (One dresses up as an elephant, another is a carnival sideshow spectacle named Johnny Iguana, whose "daddy was a crocodile, his mama...a disco queen!")

While O'Connor could elevate such over-the-top absurdity to the sublime, Ellis's efforts are substandard (as are, not infrequently, her grammar and spelling). Although she is obviously striving for great comedy, she has instead written a book filled with meanness, mockery and misogyny. (Scribner, $23)

Bottom Line: Freshman effort that's unfortunately all too sophomoric

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