Elegant, economical, evocative--these terms describe Janet Kauffman's short novel, "Collaborators," the story of a very special mother-daughter relationship. Narrated by the daughter, Dovie (whose real name, Andrea Doria, is taken from that of the ill-fated ship), the story takes place on a tobacco farm in a Mennonite community in the late 1960s.
None of the turmoil of that period touches this novel, which is ahistorical and revolves around the seasonal tasks dictated by the farm and the patterns of religious life imposed by the community. The problems of a larger society affect this family only insofar as their property is flanked by a prison, and the prison wall runs like a seam through the land and the novel itself.
The book spans the middle years of Dovie's childhood and from the opening scene with Dovie and her mother on the beach, the mother assumes the bulk of the novel. She is an imposing woman, "knuckled and ankled like other Mennonite women, constructed to break ground, to dig." Beside her mother, Dovie thinks herself "feeble." Small wonder--the mother imposes herself physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally upon the young girl. The mother is an absolutely magical woman. Not charming. Magical.
She lavishes her magic on Dovie, shares it with her, invests it in her and at that point in the novel when both Dovie and the reader are engulfed, the mother suffers a debilitating stroke. She is rendered speechless, partially paralyzed, "(goes) into whatever hiding there is when the world flies apart and scatters itself out of reach. She's on her own and she can't take me." Eventually the mother recovers the use of her body and her speech, but the magic has fled, buried perhaps, forever misplaced. Dovie herself is curiously lost; her mother can no longer remember the affectionate nickname and calls her daughter Andy.