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The Passion of Alice


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The suppression (and awakening) of many different appetites and hungers is the theme of this edgy and intense first novel whose protagonist is a 25-year-old anorexic. Almost six feet tall and weighing 94 pounds, Alice Forrester is sent to the Seaview clinic in Massachusetts after suffering a heart attack. The methods used to cure her aversion to food‘ranging from 12-step programs to neofeminist rationalizations‘are at first powerless against Alice's stubborn need to impose her will on every situation. Meanwhile, she views herself and others with clear-sighted candor. ``Being a feminist and a Catholic... I could hold two opposing views in my head at the same time,'' she says. All of the patients at Seaview have eating disorders. Grant draws their portraits with a stiletto pen: the ageing ``Queen'' Victoria; the frail, beautiful Gwen, whose eventual fate is both horrifying and macabre; the disruptive, bulimic Maeve. Alice's brittle parents are sharply delineated, as are the counselors who confess to these girls and women that there is nothing for them to look forward to in life but controlling their appetites. And appetite has a lot to do with Alice's attraction to Maeve. Smoking, puking in her purse and having sex in the bathrooms, Maeve is like Alice's heavier twin, someone who devours but never consumes. The first-person narration is expressive without being wordy, and Alice's voice‘the dry wit, the outsider's observations‘adds a level of credibility to this chronicle of young women who are female versions of Kafka's hunger artist: they're anorexic because they haven't yet tasted a food they like. The story of how Alice finds that food and renounces her feeling of emptiness is convincing and, in the end, quite moving, proving Grant a writer in cool command of her talent. (Oct.)

YA‘After suffering a heart attack, 25-year-old anorexic Alice is committed‘more or less voluntarily‘to a private rehabilitation center. Proud of being thin, she is scornful of the therapists, the therapy, and most of her fellow patients, describing with biting humor their often bizarre compulsions. Then Maeve, a voluptuous, worldly, bulimic manipulator, enters the picture. Both emotionally and physically attracted to the newcomer, Alice willingly allows herself to be used by Maeve in her war with the world. In the end, Alice begins to emerge from her illness, despite rather than because of Maeve's friendship. Grant's book is well worth reading, especially for teens who may be falling into the anorexic trap. As a novel, though, it has a couple of serious flaws. First, the detail is great, but readers can take only so much description of life in a rehab center, and Grant goes too far. Second, the key to Alice is her self-described ``emptiness''; unfortunately, the author does too good a job of conveying that trait, and Alice is therefore too passive a character to maintain readers' interest or sympathy. Nevertheless, recommend this book for its unusual, inside depiction of eating disorders.‘Chip Barnett, Rockbridge Regional Library, Lexington, VA

Like the recovering heroines of Carrie Fisher's Postcards from the Edge (LJ 8/87) and Susanna Kaysen's Girl Interrupted (LJ 3/15/93), Alice Forrester faces rehabilitative treatment with self-awareness, humor, and insight. Like them, as well, she is constantly teetering on the brink of a relapse. Just under six feet and weighing 92 pounds, anorexic Alice is admitted to the Seaview Complex outside of Boston, having suffered a heart attack. Alice's fellow patients are overweight Louise, hungry for food and friends; waiflike Gwen; Queen Victoria, so named because, at 60, she is the oldest person in the center; and loopily eccentric Maeve, who vomits into her purse because she doesn't like to put her head in toilets. With dining room and bathrooms strictly supervised, the anorexics and bulimics conspire to accommodate each other's neuroses until their treatment leads to understanding that their present diagnoses mask deeper problems. Ultimately, for the lucky ones, desire for control gives way to a desire to live. This rich and moving first novel is highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/95.]‘Barbara Love, Kingston P.L., Ontario

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