Yielding Ice About to Melt


A novel Published by Dufour Editions in the US.

June 2003, Paper $14.95      ISBN 0-8023-1339-6

Available from www.dufoureditions.com and usual sources.


"This novel merges myth and reality, evoking fairy tales, Greek myth and archetypal dreams and desires, yet holds one in a real and realised world. It is a very powerfully written and sensual book which confronts the ‘caring of’ and ‘cared for’ in the feminine, both of oneself and the other.’ 

- Lawrence Scott, author of Alred’s Sin, winner of a Commonwealth Writer’s Prize.

"This is a wonderfully unsettling novel, constructed around a progression of haunting, tableau-like images which have the authority of received myth while surprising us with their inventiveness." 

- Glenn Storhaug, poet and publisher.


"Watchful, like men crossing a winter stream.

Alert, like men aware of danger.

Courteous, like visiting guests.

Yielding, like ice about to melt."

                                                                                                                                                      - Tao Te Ching


Yielding Ice About to Melt awakens the reader to new, hidden, and forgotten perceptions. Using a prose that is pure yet intense, Richard Penna creates an enigmatic world that is at once in and yet out of our time, nudging our memory of ancient truths and shaking us into awareness of new beginnings. Thomas, a young doctor we know only by his first name, has crossed a vast and heavily polluted river in order to live in a sparsely populated area on the edge of an impenetrable forest. An icy winter freezes the land and the river. He has found work as a factotum in a remote house inhabited entirely by women. Among them are Frieda and Maria, elderly twin sisters; Genia, an abandoned child; Christina, a blind sculptor; and Rebecca, a sick woman confined to her room. Each woman, in her particular way, holds Thomas in thrall. He is bound to them all and his feelings for them range between a passionate, unexpressed love and a profound hatred. His refusal to accept their real and symbolic significance in his life leads him further into a state of alienation and impotent rage. A crisis occurs, a disappearance, and a death. Thomas realises he must yield, ‘like ice about to melt,’ to the guidance of the women – emotionally, psychologically, sexually – but how is he to do this? How can he shed his own alien guise to find a vital part of his new being?

Belonging to a long tradition of symbolic and transcendent literature, from medieval mystery plays to Hawthorne to Maurice Blanchot, this cryptic novel slowly unravels the mystery of the feminine and the exploration of the female, and the way in which we seek to ignore its inspiration by creating alien and distorted forms.


 The Library Journal review.

(Jim Dwyer, California State Univ. Lib., Chico ©2003 Reed Business Information.)

One would never expect a young doctor to become a manservant in a mansion housing eight women in a strange land he has reached by crossing a wide, polluted river, but nothing in this mythic novel should be taken literally. While the women are active characters, each also represents an aspect of the feminine: creativity, spirituality, vulnerability, wisdom, power, sexuality, curiosity, and trust in one's intuition. The young doctor's name is Thomas, and his reactions to these women vary from intense spiritual longing to desire, fear, and even loathing. Although he thinks he understands his situation, Thomas fails to comprehend who and what the women are: "We still do not exist for you; we are mere shadows." While they are all snowed in, a crisis occurs. Thomas acts, but since his actions are exterior, the inner crises continue to mount, forcing a deeper resolution. A credible, entertaining, feminist psychological allegory narrated by a male protagonist? No easy task, but first novelist Penna's economical yet poetic prose makes it look deceptively simple. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.