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I Am Zoë Handke

"At the end of Eric Larsen’s prizewinning first novel, An American Memory, the hero, Malcolm Reiner, married. And, as Malcolm, whose upbringing threatened to cripple him forever, reported, ‘We have agreed to marry and leave the Midwest.’ Now I Am Zoë Handke, Eric Larsen’s extraordinary portrait of the strange, grave, elegant girl Malcolm married, completes the story of a deeply dependent marriage.

"Zoë Handke has her own reasons to flee the Midwest. Born in 1941 when her mother was only nineteen, Zoë cold almost be her mother’s sister. Certainly, the two of them look enough alike—the young mother with her dark hair, tiny waist, and shapely legs. Sadly, however, there’s never been even a sisterly relationship between them. This mother seems always to have hated this daughter. Why else did she pull Zoë’s hair? Why else did she throw Zoë’s schoolbooks and papers into the trash? Why else tear Zoë’s clothes into pieces? This mother seems enraged by the very thing her daughter cannot help—her very existence.

"With spellbinding evocation of mood, Eric Larsen recreates Zoë’s method of self-preservation: the summoning forth of past events; the replaying of images from those events. A loving aunt’s hand on her forehead. Her grandfather’s gentle hand on the small of her back, pushing her up a hill. Her father’s hands on the steering wheel of his car. Her grandmother, in her bedroom slippers and curlers.

"But when she goes off to college, the physical absence of her mother’s wrath opens an echoing space in Zoë’s consciousness. First she ‘loses’ her hearing and then her sight. Sensing that she is about to fall into a dangerous void, Zoë proceeds to save herself one last time with a bizarre new use of those old images.

"Like her once and future husband, Zoë Handke is a remarkable literary creation—a unique character in American fiction, grown from those who went before."

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I Am Zoë Handke (1992), Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.