Picks and Pans Review: Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart

updated 05/03/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/03/2004 01:00AM

By Alice Walker

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An aging baby boomer on a quest for meaning, Kate Talkingtree is carrying around a boatload of anger, the accumulation of years of being condescended to and tending to the needs of everyone but herself. Where better to unload her burden than into a mighty river? The bulk of this slender novel takes place by the Amazon, where a shaman leads Kate and a group of fellow seekers whose lives are a symphony of misery (rape, incest, oppression). The travelers share camaraderie, spiritual talk and a mind-altering native drug.

Most of the thinly imagined characters are just props for Kate's voyage of discovery and what she learns will strike some readers as mere New Age hooey (we are told to respect the healing powers of yagé, "the grandmother medicine") mixed with familiar diatribes about how the white man caused the Third World's miseries. But Walker's evocative prose will please her fans: "Everything was in motion. If she listened closely, she could distinguish slithering, sliding, jumping, hopping, ambling, crawling, flying." And few will disagree with the 'Central theme of the book that getting older brings its own rewards. "Age is power," Kate tells her lover when she returns home. "Or it can be if it isn't distracted by shopping and cooking and trying to look nineteen."

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