A confusing clutter of unlearned lessons

August 15, 2004|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Staff

The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman, by Alice Mattison. William Morrow. 275 pages. $23.95

Daisy Andalusia is fiftysomething and a woman who is "good half the time." She is living in New Haven, Conn., on the fringes of Yale University, on the fringes of a marriage and on the fringes of other people's lives.

The man to whom she is half-heartedly married is Pekko Roberts, a slumlord by default -- he is too kind to charge poor people the rent he would need to fix up their apartments.

Daisy used to teach and organize conferences, but when she saw the back seat of a parked car piled high with junk, she put a note on the windshield: "I'm expensive, but I can help." She became a professional de-clutterer, someone who organizes other people's lives.

Just like the shoemaker who can't keep his own children shod, Daisy can't seem to focus on anything in her own life long enough to decide whether to keep it or discard it. Even Pekko.

She discovers an intriguing tabloid headline among the papers she is organizing for a Yale professor: TWO-HEADED WOMAN WEDS TWINS; DOC SAYS SHE'S TWINS.

It becomes the inspiration for an amateur community play, drawing Daisy into a series of relationships to which she also fails to commit. Alice Mattison's latest book, The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman, is Daisy's diary of a year in her life, each part written months after the fact in distant observation that reflects the emotional distance she seems to keep from everyone she meets.

But Daisy has the depth of a street puddle after a summer rain, and just as little staying power. She is casual and careless and shallow and scattered, and so is Mattison's telling of her story.

When planning a conference on murder in New Haven, a conference that will ruin the life of one person and nearly destroy her marriage, Daisy defends the theme by saying, "Death had seized my imagination, which has always gone where it wants to go."

The same can be said for Mattison's narrative. Like a pinball player, she introduces us to characters we barely get to know before she, like Daisy, moves on. The book is listless and unsatisfying as a result.

Daisy is careless with men, too, having settled with Pekko (or perhaps for Pekko) after an on-again, off-again relationship and a lifetime punctuated by lots of casual affairs, and begins another during the telling of her story.

The affair declines hurtfully but, like so many of the relationships in this story, it doesn't end. It simply stops with the end of the book. Does her marriage survive? We don't know that either. Does the play produce some personal insight? Not that you could tell.

This year is supposed to be a turning point in Daisy's life. Not only do the lessons not reveal themselves to us, they don't apparently reveal themselves to Daisy.

The only thing we know for sure at the end of this book is that the two-headed woman was able to marry two because the doctor declared that she was actually twins.

That's more than we know about Mattison's characters.

Susan Reimer has been a feature columnist for The Sun for more than a decade and often writes about relationships.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.