Portia

by Denise Turney

Published by Chistell Publishing

120 pages, 1998


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Pain Without Angst

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards



In a literary world filled with dysfunctional heroines who make crummy choices in men, Portia is a breath of fresh air. Portia is a strong, educated and balanced ebony woman with a well-adjusted and loving family and the kind of boyfriend every woman wants but few find.

Of course, contentment and happiness do not a story make and so Portia is sent a curve in the form of breast cancer. Her family's participation in the civil rights movement -- as seen through Portia's eyes -- finds a parallel in her own struggle and the strengths we all gain from overcoming things that are put in our way.

Portia is Denise Turney's first novel and the book gives a glimpse of the writer she will become. Turney's prose is frank and sparse and her dialog rings with truth. Some of the best passages in the book come from Portia's self-talk when she discovers her illness:

Breast cancer was the focus of her life. She read about it on her way to work. She read about it as newsstands and in bookstores and at the library. She telephoned Dr. Kirnan several times a week and badgered his patience with questions she didn't resolve through the readings. The more she discovered about the disease, the less trapped she felt. It was an uncanny dilemma. Her obsession, though in many ways disengaging her from fear, kept cancer in her mind, with her spirit -- even in her sleep. She wondered if the food she ate would feed the tumor and cause it to grow. She stared at the paint on her house walls; in the office she wondered if there could be asbestos. Yet, she kept telling herself her pain would pass... One day she wouldn't have to cry herself to sleep. She'd stop dreaming about days gone by spent with her family. She'd stop looking into the toilet each time she urinated, checking to see if she'd dropped blood, as if the cancer moved from her left breast to her bladder in a matter of weeks.

Portia is a slender 120-pages in paperback, and it really should be more. The character deserves it and I think the writer could sustain it but the novel's current word count -- whatever it is -- is not enough. Though parts of the manuscript sing, others feel as though the author is running downhill: striving very hard to keep up with her unruly creation. Too much is crammed into the slender volume and result in a few inelegant segues that have no place in an otherwise well-crafted story. | September 5, 1998

 

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of the Madeline Carter novels: Mad Money, The Next Ex and Calculated Loss.