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Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful, By Deborah Kay Davies

Deborah Kay Davies has achieved something rare: a collection of short stories wherein each story is complete in its own right (many were competition winners, or radio broadcasts) but which also work together as a novella-length sequence. The connecting thread is the two sisters Grace and Tamar: this is a study of a lifelong sibling rivalry, or rather, sister rivalry, since though they do have a brother he is not important enough even to merit a name. In fact, the male characters are shadowy and undeveloped in all these stories.

Grotesque and violent incidents abound: Tamar is nearly killed as a toddler when Grace pushes her out of a tree; later in life, Tamar nearly drowns Grace in retaliation for the latter's sexual exhibitionism on the beach. Tamar likes to put baby snails up her nose; one disappears and never comes back. One story features sexual intercourse with a basset hound. Sometimes, indeed, the reader is led to wonder whether the events "really" happened or whether they are fantasies.

Davies's first book was a volume of poetry and her gift for imagery is is evident here: eating a scallop is described as "like eating a virgin mermaid's buttock".

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