Award-winning poet Carpenter's ( The Hours of Morning ; Rain ) entertaining, often moving first novel is a coming-of-age saga reminiscent of Mona Simpson's The Lost Father and Brock Cole's Celine . Penelope, nicknamed Penguin, disfigured by a birthmark and additionally scarred by her parents' divorce, has retreated behind a screen of extremist politics. Technically adult at 20 but still a child in many respects, Penguin is expelled from Dartmouth for setting fire to a fraternity house where another student has been raped. She returns to her father's Cape Cod home, where his next-door neighbor, a writer, hires Penguin to care for his AIDS-stricken lover. She forms a friendship with the dying Arnold just as the wealthy beach community decides that his presence is a threat. For the first time, Penguin sees a political debate in terms that are not abstract. With relentless, crackling dialogue, Carpenter creates a perceptive narrator who is by turns annoying, funny and wise, and surrounds her with characters whose believable interdependencies suggest an extended family of the '90s. While some scenes involving the younger characters are stereotypic, the author generally exerts firm control over his sensuous, highly textured prose, which unfolds with grace and sometimes heartbreaking accuracy. Author tour. (Aug.)
Tailor-made for the Nineties, Carpenter's first novel is a seriocomic coming-of-age story. Passing time at her family's Cape Cod home, Penny (Penguin) Solstice contrasts the concerns of spoiled summer residents who battle over whether or not to spray for mosquitoes with the seemingly more crucial ideals that led to her expulsion from Dartmouth. But everything comes to a halt when a long-time resident brings in his love, who is dying of AIDS. Fear runs rampant; even ambulance attendants show up dressed in "waterproof yellow outfits with yellow boots and gloves, and they wore Halloween masks over their faces." Since her reclusive artist-father is now married to his former student, Penguin ends up as her neighbors' sole confidante. The basic plot is familiar: the separate lives of women college friends. But the variations on that theme, replete with lush descriptions, are enchanting; few male writers have so sensitively depicted a female protagonist. For most collections.-Rochelle Ratner, formerly Poetry Editor, ``Soho Weekly News,'' New York
Daughter of a wealthy sculptor, Penelope Solstice, known as Penguin, is indeed a flightless bird and "the only virgin at Dartmouth College." After being expelled for group arson at the Beta Sig house, site of an ignored gang rape, she seeks solace at her family's Cape Cod summerhouse, where her father is honeymooning with his young second wife. Estranged from her feelings, Penguin drifts aimlessly through the summer until a neighbor installs his lover, a composer dying of AIDS, next door. The affluent surrounding community, insulated by money and self-absorption, strives to force the sick man out and ostracizes Penguin when she involves herself in caring for him as he fights to live long enough to complete a final composition. Carpenter pens masterly portraits of the smug wealthy, distraught at the seeming unravelling of their cocoon of safety, and contrapuntally creates in Penguin a strong, funny, sometimes touching heroine struggling to define family and self. A moving addition to AIDS literature.