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Young Adult Book : The Morning of the Gods by Edward Fenton (Delacorte : $14.95; 184 pp.)

August 23, 1987|Carolyn Meyer | Meyer writes the Young Adult Book column for Saturday View.

The charming Greek fishing village near Delphi that author Edward Fenton brings to life in "The Morning of the Gods" is not, he insists, the same charming Greek fishing village in which he lives. Nevertheless, he obviously knows and loves his subject deeply, and from that knowledge and affection he creates a striking group portrait.

Carla arrives in the village after her Greek-born mother died in an accident. She stays with her great Aunt Tiggie (short for Antigone), a true Earth Mother, and Uncle Theo, a tireless storyteller who enjoys creating his own mythology of the village almost as much as he enjoys retelling stories from ancient mythology.

Over Tiggie's protests, Theo volunteers the story of the blacksmith who repaid his wife's faithlessness by locking the door and barring the windows while she slept in the bedroom with her lover. Tiggie and Theo bicker and banter endlessly between themselves but take wonderful care of their "American grandchild," closing each day with a libation: "Beloved Pan and all ye other gods that haunt this place. . . ."

The setting is perfect--you can almost smell the rosemary and thyme, taste the new honey on the fresh-baked bread, see the blooming of Tiggie's rare amaryllis. During the dramatic observance of the Greek Easter, with its images of eggs dyed blood red, candles lit to signify the return of Christ, roast lamb dripping on spits and the singing and dancing of the villagers, it is not surprising that Carla/Ersi lets go of her hurt and becomes strong again. Ersi's hair, which she hacked off the day of her mother's death, has grown back to its beautiful length again by the time her grief has ebbed.

But the problem, both with Fenton's novel and with Ersi's world, is that the story takes place in 1974; a repressive military government has been ruling Greece for seven years. The influence of the Junta has had unpleasant effects on the villagers, and on none more deeply than the mysterious Lefteris, a boy of Ersi's age who was left behind when his parents fled the country. Lefteris, who always wears a bright flower stuck in his shirt pocket, is drawn to Ersi because both are "secret and alone." They become friends.

Fired up by anti-Junta talk of Lefteris and her great-aunt and great-uncle, Ersi decides to become politically involved, to do something in the name of freedom and justice, and with this the plot turns to cardboard: most of the characters are believable (except the bad guys), but what they are doing is not. The "climax" with Ersi on her bicycle in Delphi taxes credibility well beyond its limits. By the last page every little thread has been woven in as neatly as Ulysses' Penelope could have done it, and like Penelope's shroud, it's just as easy to unravel.

Edward Fenton, who won an Edgar Award for the best juvenile mystery with an earlier book, would have done better to give his fine characters something believable to do with themselves in that wonderful village.

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