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Books to Look For
Fantasy & Science Fiction December 1989

By Orson Scott Card

Tourists, Lisa Goldstein (Simon & Schuster, cloth 239 pp, $17.95)

The Parmenters are not an ordinary family to begin with. Father is an anthropologist who has lost touch with his family; Mother is a quiet drunk whose whole family conspires not to mention the fact that she can't cope without alcohol flowing through her veins.

But the daughters are at the heart of the book. As children, Casey and Angie created a pair of imaginary kingdoms, much as J.R.R. Tolkien did and, a century before, the Bronte children. Casey has grown out of that phase, however, and now engages the world head on -- precociously, if you like her, outrageously, if you don't. Angie, though, remains immersed in the imaginary kingdoms and hardly notices the world around her. Particularly she refuses to notice the way boys look at her annoyingly attractive body.

She doesn't even notice when the family trades houses with a professor from the Moslem land of Amaz so that her father can conduct research on an ancient document. But like it or not, the entire family gets involved in an ancient struggle that has dominated the land of Amaz so pervasively that the evidence of the conflict is formed into the very fabric of the city -- and yet is completely invisible.

Alongside the fascinating American family, Goldstein has also created, in the heart of the city of Amaz, an odd little street of shopkeepers whose hierarchies and squabbles intertwine themselves with the family in ways that are completely unexpected -- and yet exactly right.

Lisa Goldstein's greatest talent -- among many -- is the way she can blend the surreal and the ordinary so seamlessly together that magic seems reasonable and rational behavior seems laden with portent. There's action and danger enough to keep you awake all night reading it, and truth and beauty enough that you'll think, as I did, that it was well worth the loss of sleep.

When I was finished, I was in awe of the artist -- but while I read, I had no thought of "art" at all. I fell in love with both the characters and the narrative voice; I forgot to read as a critic and instead reveled in the pleasures of the tale. Nobody in American is writing novels more true and beautiful than those of Lisa Goldstein.

The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing, Judith L. Rapoport, M.D. (Dutton, cloth, 260 pp, $18.95)

First with schizophrenia and now with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), psychologists are finally discovering the bio-chemical roots of many mental illnesses. Rapoport's career began before OCD was named, back when compulsive hand-washing was blamed on domineering parents and obsessive checking (Is the iron on? Am I sure I didn't just run over somebody with my car?) was blamed on bad toilet training or a distorted religious upbringing. Now, though, what was once blamed on parents has been found to have its source in brain dysfunctions, and people who would have been subjected to years of meaningless analysis can often be helped by taking a rather unpleasant pill. In short, psychology is finally becoming a science instead of a religion; today we follow the data instead of the utterances of prophets like Freud, Jung, or Skinner.

But that isn't the primary value of this book. Rapoport, instead of writing bare case studies, has included several accounts by patients themselves, and their stories are as moving as any fiction I've ever read. They describe mental processes that are often disturbingly familiar, as if all of us lived on the edge of these obsessions. Indeed, some of their compulsions seem to grow out of the very capacities that make civilization possible -- our innate sense of responsibility or duty.

Here's another reason you should read The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing. There is cause to believe that one in seventy-five people suffers from this problem. That means if you don't yourself suffer from OCD, you probably know someone who does. Since most OCD sufferers do a damn good job of keeping their "craziness" secret, they often think they're alone. Simply knowing the stories of the people in this book could be an exquisite unburdening.

Eva, Peter Dickinson (Delacorte, cloth, 219 pp, $14.95)

A few years ago, Pat Murphy's novelet "Rachel in Love" used the same subject matter as Peter Dickinson's new novel: a human girl whose mind is overlaid on the brain of a chimpanzee, who then has to reconcile her human and animal natures.

Now here is Peter Dickinson moving into the same territory with a young adult novel that proves that just because one author has done brilliantly with a theme doesn't mean that its possibilities have been exhausted.

Like Rachel, Eva is the daughter of a scientist who does research with chimps, and so she has grown up with them and already knows much about their lives; like Rachel, she is implanted in a chimp's body when her natural human body dies. Unlike Rachel, though, Eva's parents are still with her, with all their foibles and virtues. Her father loves his work more than anything -- loves her, it seems, more as an experiment than as a daughter. Her mother, whose affection had been unbounding, tries heroically to accept this clever ape as her daughter, but never quite succeeds -- a hug from that hairy arm gives no comfort, but only reminds her of what she has lost.

Eva finds her closest relationship with Kelly, the chimp whose body she's using. From the start, she has been aware of Kelly's dream of trees -- a dream that survives only at the limbic level, for the forests of Earth are gone, except for postage-stamp scraps here and there. It is the Kellyness of Eva that responds most to an unforgettable fellow named Grog, who comes up with an quixotic scheme to reestablish the chimps, if not in the wild, at least among trees, for Grog believes that the human race is doomed and hopes Eva can prepare the chimps to inherit the Earth.

It is perhaps too easy to say that this is a natural young adult novel, since it deals metaphorically with exactly the crises of adolescence -- the replacement of a small smooth body with a large hairy one, the loss of parental affection and the discovery of parental weakness; leaving the known world and striking out into the wild. Eva, as with all Peter Dickinson's work, is far more complex than the simple structure and gemlike clarity of voice suggest.

It's enough for me to say that whether you compare it to Dickinson's previous work or to Murphy's "Rachel in Love," Eva measures up. I suspect that the only reason Dickinson doesn't have a giant reputation in the field of science fiction is because his writing has all been marketed for children. That's our loss, their gain.

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