Divining Women

Kaye Gibbons

“He still took up a great deal of space in the room, and he knew it, using this awareness to his advantage, to make us all back up and give him more.” Thus does Mary Oliver, the narrator of this brisk and doom-laden little novel, assess her chief antagonist, Troop Ross, her half-uncle. Author Kaye Gibbons has created an ornate and claustrophobic Southern Gothic setting for her latest exploration of conflicting class and moral values and sexual politics in early-20th-century America. Within the gilded cage of the narrative frame Gibbons’ three main characters, the tyrant Troop, the perceptive but naive Mary and the novel’s centerpiece, Maureen, Troop’s oppressed and pregnant wife, develop a veiled sapphic love triangle as the Spanish flu epidemic swirls fatally around their brocade cocoon and distant reverberations of the end of World War I penetrate their isolation. Gibbons is a master prose stylist and keen observer of human interactions; the combination gives this story an emotional resonance greater than its 200-page length would imply. Recommended.