JOANNA SCOTT – The Manikin.  Henry Holt, hardcover, 1996. Picador, softcover, 1998.

   Scott is the author of four novels and a story collection, the latter of which was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Holt characterizes this is a part coming-of-age story and part Gothic mystery, and uses some other more literary terns as well.

   Outside of Rochester in rural upstate New York lies The Manikin, a baroque mansion designed by and ‘built for the man known as “the Henry Ford of Natural History.”  His business specialty was taxidermy, and the house is filled with mute and sometimes startling testimony to it. A motley crew of humans live there as well, made up of his aging widow and her servants and his former chief taxidermist.

   They exist in slowly dwindling splendor, isolated from the real world, until a house guest arrives as winter sets in one year in the late 1920’s, a wandering son returns, and everything changes forever.

   Holt misspoke; though this does have Gothic overtones, and though there are crimes including rape and animal mutilation, it is no sort of a mystery. Nor are there any genre trappings whatsoever. It is a Novel, by a Novelist, and to my eye an exceptional one. Scott has created .a strange and wonderful set of characters, and her prose is simply outstanding. The countryside and the strange old house are evoked so well as to become characters in themselves.

   Scott is a writer both lyrical and mannered, and this isn’t a book to read quickly. It’s one to read, though.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #24, March 1996.