James Marcus
May 17, 1991 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Pious Secrets

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Irene Dische
publisher
Viking
genre
Romance, Fiction

We gave it an A-

It’s hard not to envy certain writers their bios. Take Irene Dische, for example. Born in Manhattan’s Washington Heights in 1952, Dische dropped out of high school at 17 to study the harpsichord in Salzburg, Austria, traveled throughout the Middle East and Africa, and eventually began to churn out articles, stories, and libretti, as well as directing a prizewinning documentary, Zacharias. What a slouch. And to make things worse, she’s produced an enviable first novel in Pious Secrets. This slim work, already a best-seller in Europe, recounts a romance between two pathologists at the New York City morgue. Dr. Ronald Hake enjoys dwelling on the metaphysical mysteries of his job, insisting that ”inside man lay not only insides, but also a soul, and that inside each soul was a dirty secret.” Dr. Connie Bauer, ”a blonde with a bosom so maternal she could not see her feet from a standing position,” is decidedly more earthy. Yet Connie, too, may be mucking around with secrets. For certain pieces of evidence suggest that her father, a retired architect living in the Jersey suburbs, is actually…Adolf Hitler. The premise sounds like fodder for the baddest of bad movies, but Dische exploits it brilliantly, obliquely, and with a sneaky sense of comedy. Rich and exact, her prose keeps peeling away layers of character and concealment, and true to its subject — the human soul — it lets at least a shadow of doubt fall over the story’s conclusion. A-

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