Walker's Latest Gives More Heat Than Light

Article excerpt

BY THE LIGHT OF MY FATHER'S SMILE

By Alice Walker

Random House 222 pp., $22.95 Alice Walker's latest novel opens with a dead father, Mr. Robinson, narrating a chapter entitled "Angels." He's haunting his younger daughter, Susannah, to learn how he might have been a better father. His voyeuristic observation of her recalls his profession as an anthropologist. Denied funding for their work because they are black, Robinson and his wife, also an anthropologist, conducted their study of the Mundo people in Mexico through the sponsorship of their church. But they had to do so in the guise of missionaries. Unfortunately, the "pastor" gets fooled by his own disguise. Dressed in priest's garb, he explains to his daughters that "his profession ... was based on the forgiveness of other people's sins." But Robinson is not the man for the job. Though the father revels in his wife's sensuality, he is terrified by his older daughter's passion. When he discovers her tryst with a Mundo boy - a tryst meant to represent natural, unsullied sex - he whips her mercilessly, hoping to remake her in her sister's more demure image. Instead, both girls are forever distanced from their father. The older one eats herself into oblivion, dying eventually from the rage she has savored and the mounds of food she has consumed trying to satisfy herself. Susannah spends her life searching for a partner, traveling through a marriage, an affair, and a lesbian liaison, finding plenty of lust but precious little love. Sex permeates these pages. Graphic and generally loveless, it is, for the most part, a means of manipulation - an attempt to control, win over, or avenge another. Surprisingly, Walker describes her novel as "a celebration of sexuality. …