Rushforth’s second novel, which took him twenty-five years to write, is set in Edwardian New York and takes place on a single day, largely in the avid mind of its heroine, Alice Pinkerton, a bibliophilic spinster with a stammer and a penchant for dressing in white. Something of a cross between Harriet the Spy and Jane Eyre, she passes her days devising ways to expose “the humorless of Longfellow Park,” as epitomized by her nemesis, the dowager Mrs. Albert Comstock. She is regarded, unsurprisingly, as the neighborhood eccentric and undergoes various period cures, like hypnotism. Rushforth weaves Alice’s often fantastical musings together with bits of the classics, popular novels, doggerel, and even advertisements for dentures and corsets. Although the author’s reliance on allusion occasionally shades into the merely curatorial, his novel constitutes an epic inquiry into literature’s role as an engine of interior life.
Rushforth's pyrotechnic second novel (appearing 25 years after the publication of his acclaimed debut, Kindergarten) seeks to capture, in one day, the play of forces-literary, musical, medical and sexual-that made Edwardian New York society. At the center is Alice Pinkerton, nearly 35-year-old "spinster," the "madwoman in the attic" of Longfellow Park. Actually, she is not confined to an attic: she writes, goes to church and takes care of her mother. But these details are almost hidden in the deluge of Alice's inner life flowing over these pages, with a richness comparable to Leopold Bloom's in Ulysses. Alice, it appears, suffers from hypertrophy of childhood memories and a consequent emotional vacancy of adult experience. Does it stem from her discovery, at 20, of the body of her father, who committed suicide in his study? Perhaps the real key to Alice's condition goes back to twinned mysteries: the disappearance of her beloved childhood maid, and the source of her hatred for her father. Alice's fantasies and musings are stuffed with references to Shakespeare, 19th-century novels and poetry (particularly Stevenson's The Children's Hour, which exerts a surprisingly sinister influence in her life), opera and popular music; these are both buffers against reality and a means of mythologizing her neighbors. The flaw is that Rushforth has created no character in the book to counterbalance Alice; you sometimes feel that, in this mansion of a novel, you are locked in a small crowded closet. Agent, Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson. (Mar. 8) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Fin-de-siecle New Yorker Alice Pinkerton has heard the neighborhood boys refer to her as a "madwoman in the attic," yet she feels no urge to correct them. At 35, she has become the Emily Dickinson of upper-class Longfellow Park, scribbling her thoughts as they flow from a psyche both troubled and sharply aware of society's deception and hypocrisy. We spend a single, snowy day in the attic with Alice as she relates-often through the characters of Wilde, Poe, the Brontes, and Shakespeare-memories of people from her childhood, e.g., a young friend and house servant who is raped and made pregnant by Alice's father and Mrs. Albert Comstock, a gossipy society matron who draws Alice's silent ire at every turn. British novelist Rushforth (Kindergarten, winner of the 1979 Hawthornden Prize for Imaginative Literature) presents a dense, richly detailed novel with dashes of Joyce, Wharton, and E.L. Doctorow. Not every reader will take to the stream-of-consciousness style, but those who do will be rewarded. Recommended for large fiction collections.-Jenn B. Stidham, Harris County P.L., Houston Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Put a madwoman in an attic, and all kinds of literary possibilities-some already well explored-ensue: a second novel by the author of (Kindergarten, 1980). Alice Pinkerton isn't exactly insane, and she doesn't exactly live under the eaves. Indeed, writes Rushforth, "It annoyed her that they thought she was mad, but it annoyed her even more that they were wrong about the attic." "They" are Alice's bourgeois family friends and assorted bugaboos, one in particular with the stately name of Mrs. Albert Comstock ("one of those Lazarus-pale, white-fleshed, grotesquely shaped creatures drawn up from deep below the surface of cold dark water where light never penetrated"), a woman who makes a fine, increasingly complex foil for the ever-aggrieved protagonist. Ms. Pinkerton may live upstairs in a turn-of-the-last-century New York townhouse, but she really inhabits a world of books; throughout, she is constantly turning to or quoting from the likes of Charlotte Bronte, Herman Melville, or Charles Dickens, whose last novel, the incomplete Mystery of Edwin Drood, is on her mind for good reason. Contemporary novelists-excepting the wonderful Helen DeWitt (The Last Samurai) and Frederick Busch (The Night Inspector)-don't often turn to the universe of crumbling pages and old-fashioned ideas. But Rushforth seems perfectly at home there, and readers of a literary bent will enjoy the stream of learned allusions and references flowing from Alice as she ponders the state of the unwashed, philistine society beyond her polished doors. Not much happens, though, in these 700-plus pages, and readers not sufficiently taken by Alice's interior struggles and exterior tics may find its Victorian-parlor setting just abit stuffy. Still, Rushforth is a careful writer who creates a fictional world very nicely indeed, and his Alice is a believable, sympathetic character who lives on her own terms even while counting the ghosts in the mirrors. Complete with instructions on how to handle books in the event of plague, this is just the thing for fans of eccentric, backward-looking fiction.
PRAISE FOR PINKERTON'S SISTER
"Rushforth's second novel is set in Edwardian New York and takes place on a single day, largely in the avid mind of its heroine, Alice Pinkerton. Something of a cross between Harriet the Spy and Jane Eyre, she passes her days devising ways to expose 'the humorless of Longfellow Park.' An epic inquiry into literature's role as an engine of interior life."-THE NEW YORKER
"Pinkerton's Sister is a very fine novel, at once sprawling and intimate, and blessed with long gorgeous passages worthy of Henry James."-THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD