June 20, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Tattooed Girl

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Joyce Carol Oates
publisher
Ecco Press
genre
Fiction
We gave it an A-

Alma looks as if she’s been scribbled on by an angry child. A web of tattoos covers her hands, a moth-shaped stain mars her face. Meanwhile, Joshua Seigl’s torment is interior: A one-hit literary sensation (he wrote an acclaimed Holocaust novel based on his family’s experience), Seigl now doubts his abilities, first mental, then physical — an unnamed disease is disabling him. The undereducated, discarded girl goes to work for the overeducated, celebrated man. The situation has deadly potential: Beneath her docile demeanor, Alma’s a venomous anti-Semite. Oates takes a tricky look at the nature of hate and its sources –envy, rejection, love. Written from both Seigl’s and Alma’s perspectives, The Tattooed Girl is a complicated, sometimes sweet story rife with misunderstandings and missteps, unintended hurts and deliberate forgiveness. It will leave a mark.

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