Book Review Mary of Bellingham Anneke Campbell Jodere Group (January 2004); $24 Author Anneke Campbell will appear this Saturday at Doubleday Books. “What was up ahead? Slouching toward Bellingham, it was shaped roughly like a blue egg on matchsticks.” In fact, it’s a pregnant girl, trudging her way through the snow into the lives of the good — and not so good — people of Bellingham, smack in the middle of the Christmas season. She’s mute — maybe by choice, maybe not. Her name is Mary, or so she writes on a piece of notebook paper, and she’s directed by angels. Technically, she’s a virgin — and as the cast of characters in Anneke Campbell’s first novel, Mary of Bellingham, set out to help her, they reveal … themselves. There’s Joe Dupree, an African-American mailman whose own family dissolved long ago and who carries a flask of coffee laced with brandy on his daily rounds; Violet Wampler, waitress, perennial student, feminist extraordinaire; her twin sister, Gina, a militant do-gooder who runs a shelter for abused women and, despite claiming to be a happy wife and mother, is carrying on an affair with police officer Sarah Wildhack. There’s way overweight Ted Economou, former college basketball star, born-again proprietor of the Center Court Café; Becka and Manny Rosenbulum, pastry chef and journalist, a young couple making each other miserable in their desperate efforts to conceive a child; Dr. Bob Zohrabi, divorced, a burned out obstetrician who treats himself to cocaine (only on the weekends); and Cammy Bradbury, nurse and single mom, in hot pursuit of him. Who is Mary, anyway? Where did she come from? Is her baby a miracle of faith or science, the product of an insidious experiment or evidence that aliens exist? Soon enough, the tabloid Planet gets wind of the story. Hordes of reporters camp out near the Center Court Café and sufferers of every kind wait patiently for Mary’s healing touch. Then her labor actually begins, and there’s a frenzy of activity, Mary’s saviors pitting themselves against one another to gain control of her destiny and that of the child’s. Chronicling their efforts to do what they think best for her (and get a little for themselves on the side), Campbell paints a picture of life in the new millennium that is at the same time believable, thought-provoking and delightfully absurd. Unerringly, with loving irony, she deftly juggles the stories of more than a dozen characters, including so-called Mary herself, revealing their beliefs, dreams and motivations as the novel torques to its satisfying conclusion. Currently living in Los Angeles, Anneke Campbell earned her MFA in creative writing from IU. She’ll sign copies of Mary of Bellingham this Saturday, May 8, at Doubleday Books, 49 W. Maryland St., from 1-3 p.m. and next Wednesday at the Barnes & Noble in Carmel (14709 U.S. Highway 31 North) at 7 p.m.

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