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The Third Child Hardcover – November 25, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow & Co; First Edition edition (November 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0066211166
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066211169
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,682,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A privileged, lonely 19-year-old takes refuge in a doomed love affair in this 16th novel by Piercy (Three Women, etc.), a biting, contemporary take on Romeo and Juliet and an acidic commentary on Washington political culture. Melissa Dickinson is the neglected, needy third child of Republican senator Dick Dickinson and his cold, scheming wife, Rosemary. In her first year at Wesleyan, she meets Blake Ackerman, a classmate who is both dark-skinned and Jewish, qualities sure to distress her parents. Melissa is ripe for the attention Blake lavishes on her after he discovers that she is Dick Dickinson's daughter. He tells Melissa he's the adopted son of Si and Nadine Ackerman, liberal criminal lawyers whose defense of death row cases has been a thorn in Dickinson's side for years, but doesn't immediately inform her that he's also the mixed-race son of Toussaint Parker, a convicted "cop-killer" whose execution Dickinson, a former Pennsylvania governor, failed to stay. They fall into an intensely symbiotic relationship fueled by sexual compatibility ("Sometimes she felt as if they were rooting, digging through each other's bodies trying to sink deeper and deeper within") as well as by Melissa's resentment of her emotionally inaccessible family ("she had wanted to punish them for their long disregard of her") and Blake's desire for vengeance, which includes hacking into Melissa's parents' computer to find evidence that might destroy "King Richard's" career, but ends up destroying much more. Piercy's explosive resolution is rather abrupt and over the top, but it affirms that the most treacherous traps are those set by ignorance and innocence.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Piercy is adept at fashioning provocatively topical plots and vivid characters in order to explore the psychological complexities of families, relationships between men and women, and various forms of social injustice. In her sixteenth riveting novel, Melissa Dickinson is the unloved third child in a prominent political family, and the bane of her beautiful WASPy mother, a consummate politician's wife, who is militarily well organized and ruthlessly ambitious for her handsome, stain-resistant husband, formerly a hard-hearted governor of Pennsylvania, currently a senator with an eye on the White House. Melissa is nothing like her lovely older sister, politico-clone older brother, or easygoing younger brother. Introspective, embarrassingly voluptuous, and profoundly enraged by her mother's chilling devotion to creating the perfect family image, she is infinitely relieved to go away to college, where, inevitably, she falls in love with a guy who embodies everything her parents despise. Seemingly African American, Blake is the secretive and manipulative adopted son of two famous Jewish liberal lawyers. But there is nothing predictable about Piercy's extraordinarily magnetizing characters or this novel's bold and galvanizing story, which raises tough questions about one's sense of self and the many faces of compassion, loyalty, and power. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

The plot goes nowhere and the characters are empty and sometimes annoying.
N. Howard
Make the list as long as you can before opening this book, then hopefully your list will still have something on it when you're done!
It's rare for me not to finish a book, but I only got to about page 140 of this one.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Wendy Kaplan on March 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
One doesn't pick up a Marge Piercy novel for some mindless entertainment. Piercy, a deeply committed and passionate author and poet, has something to say--and she has done so strongly and well in her many novels.
So I knew going in that I was going to have an unforgettable experience, as many of Piercy's novels have never left my consciousness, most notably, "Vida" and "Braided Lives," among others. Nevertheless, I was not prepared for the brutal read that is "The Third Child."
When I say "brutal," I am not referring to violence or mayhem, although one could certainly make a case for psychological violence in this plot ... Melissa Dickinson, who considers herself too tall, too fat, and altogether lumpish, thanks to her shrew of a mother, is the third of four chidren in the picture-perfect family of her father, Senator Dick Dickinson. We gather that the senator is an arch conservative, whose wife (and Melissa's uncaring mother), Rosemary, a small-boned, brittle beauty, is the power behind the throne. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will stop Rosemary in her constant and obsessive push to further her husband's career all the way to the presidency. Every aspect of Melissa's life is a photo op. Otherwise, she sees nothing of her father, and her mother only communicates to criticize.
So it is no wonder, then, that when Melissa finally escapes to college, she falls heavily and hard for just the "wrong type of boy" in her mother's eyes, had her mother known about the romance. Blake is 19, like Melissa, a gorgeous black man who was adopted and raised by a prominent Jewish famiy and who considers himself Jewish as well. A double whammy for the oh-so-WASP Dickinsons. But Melissa is besotted with Blake, madly passionately in love as only a first love can be.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
It is difficult to characterize this novel. It's certainly a coming-of-age novel, tracing, as it does, Melissa Dickinson's life from age 17 - 19, and it's certainly a political novel in the sense that it focuses on her relationship with her father, a conservative senator from Pennsylvania and former two-term governor, a proponent of the death penalty who oversaw several executions. It's also a "suspense" novel in that it involves research into possible corruption, with a grand climax in the last ten pages. Thin on character, it is also more theatrical than subtle--easy to imagine as a film or TV program.
The third child in a political family which does not have enough time for her, Melissa Dickinson is a bright student who goes off to a fine university in Connecticut. There she immediately meets a handsome young man who, for reasons she cannot fathom (but which the reader will immediately guess), sweeps her off her feet and engages her in an overwhelming, passionate affair. She soon discovers that he is the son of a lawyer who represented a convicted murderer executed during her father's term. He wants to "research" her father and collect data about him, and she, resenting the family dynamics, which do not recognize her as an individual, agrees to help her lover.
Romantic and melodramatic, the novel depends on the reader's belief that the daughter of a two-term governor who is now a senator and friend of the President really could be as naive as Melissa is. Though she is seventeen, supposedly has scored 1460 on her SATs, and has attended fine schools, she apparently has no curiosity whatever about government or education in basic civics, referring, at one point, to the Secretary of the Interior--"whatever that meant.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
My 7-day check-out of Marge Piercy's new book, The Third Child, expired today. Although I was only 1/3 through the book, I took the unusual (for me) step of returning it, unfinished, rather than pay the fine, because there were some things about the story that I just couldn't get past.
The heroine of the story is Melissa. Melissa is the daughter of a Republican senator; she attends Wellesley. She meets an adopted boy of unknown racial descent and begins a love affair with him.
Melissa hates her parents who are cold and bad, presumably because they are Republican. On the other hand, she is obsessed with "Blake", who is distant, secretive, at times surly, and who nearly forces her to have sex with him the first time they are alone together, saying "I'm only taking what's mine." Hmmmmmmmm. Wow.
But perhaps the hardest thing for me to get past were Blake's comments about his parents. Or rather, lack of them. Although he was adopted by his parents at birth, when asked about his parents for the first time, Blake says that he doesn't have any, because he was adopted. His adoptive parents raised him and are sending him to an expensive college; but he *doesn't have any parents because he was adopted*. Then who are the people who raised him?
I have said elsewhere that I would read Marge Piercy's grocery list. I have to amend that statement. I could not bring myself to finish this book. I found the heroine ditzy; the "hero" was a *complete* jerk; and the "villains" (Melissa's Republican parents) painted with broad, stereotypical strokes (cold-hearted, racist, want-to-kill-your-grandma kind of people).
Marge, I hope you were going somewhere with all of this; but I won't be finishing the book to find out.
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