Books: Slow Death

WILDWOOD—Josephine W. Johnson—Harper ($2).

Josephine (Now in November) Johnson's first novel since 1937 is a study in passive, helpless anguish. Its subject: the cold fear, the ultimate spiritual paralysis, which lovelessness can create. Its victim: a shy, adopted child named Edith.

Edith's adoptive parents were Matthew Pierre, an ornithologist, and his wife Valerie, a horticulturist. Their home, "Wildwood," was a warbling, fragrant inferno of prize flowers and bird-feeding stations, surrounded by a rusty iron fence. Matthew was a cold-souled, pipe-fondling dispenser of gently eviscerating irony. Valerie's "pale unearthly face was . . ....

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