Cover image for The third child
The third child
Piercy, Marge.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow, [2003]

Physical Description:
342 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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The renowned novelist and poet Marge Piercy tells a contemporary love story set in the twin realms of college and national politics

In the politically prominent Dickinson family, ambition comes first, and Melissa, the third child, has always felt that she comes last. Going away to college offers her a chance at a life free from her brilliant mother's constant scrutiny and her famous father's lack of interest.

There she meets Blake, a man of mixed race and apparently unknown parentage. His adoptive parents are lawyers whose defense of death- row cases has brought them head-to-head with Melissa's father, the former governor of Pennsylvania who is now a U.S. senator.

Melissa and Blake's attraction is immediate; their affair, fiery. Yet Blake is keeping a dangerous secret from Melissa, one that could destroy them -- and their families.

Dealing with themes of love, honesty, identity, and the consequences of ambition, this thoughtful, beautifully written story is a remarkable and provocative page-turner.

Author Notes

Poet and novelist Marge Piercy was born in Detroit, Michigan on March 31, 1936. She received a B. A. from the University of Michigan and an M. A. from Northwestern. She is involved in the Jewish renewal and political work and was part of the civil rights movement. She won the Arthur C. Clarke award. Besides writing her own novels and collections of poetry, she has collaborated with her husband Ira Wood on a play, The Last White Class, and a novel, Storm Tide. In 1997, they founded a small literary publishing company called the Leapfrog Press. She currently lives in Cape Cod.

(Bowker Author Biography) Marge Piercy is the author of 14 previous poetry collections and 14 novels. In 1990 her poetry won the Golden Rose, the oldest poetry award in the country. She lives on Cape Cod.

(Publisher Provided) Marge Piercy is the author of 35 books of poetry & fiction, including the best sellers "Gone to Soldiers" & "The Longings of Women".

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

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 famousewish 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 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Dec. 1) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The celebrated poet/novelist returns with a story of star-crossed love. Daughter of the governor, Melissa feels lost in the political rush, so she's happy to find herself-and a new boyfriend-at college. The only problem: the mixed-race Blake, abandoned by his parents, has been raised by lawyers whose stance on capital punishment has put them in conflict with Melissa's dad. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Third Child A Novel Chapter One "Your father is an important man." Rosemary placed her small delicate handsfirmly on the ebony surface of her desk, the desk that had followed her through the governor's mansion to the Washington house the Senator had rented at what Rosemary said was an exorbitant price. She had called Melissa and Billy into her office at the back. "You have to learn to behave accordingly. If this gets into the papers, it could damage your father." Billy was trying to look remorseful, but Melissa worried he was not succeeding. The windows were open onto the narrow yard, where something exotic was in bloom. It was spring vacation and much warmer in D.C. than at Miss Porter's School in Connecticut where Melissa was in her last year. In her father's family, the Dickinsons, the women always attended Miss Porter's -- even her, no matter how far down the family hierarchy she was rated. The garden was her favorite part of this new house in Georgetown on a street called P in the block off Wisconsin where her parents had moved after the election. She and Billy sat out there last night smoking dope under a magnolia whose big flowers were just browning and falling on them. A tree with pink flowers was opening, a tree as feminine as if it wore a prom dress. In the twilight after Billy went in, she had lain under that tree imagining a lover -- not real sex, with its brutal disappointment, but with a soft dissolve, romantic, like perfect kissing. Her grandmother Susie, whom she never saw anymore, would know the name of that tree. When she was little, she had wanted to be like Grandma Susie -- growing tomatoes and peonies, beans and zinnias in the yard in Youngstown. She had started a garden on the grounds of the governor's mansion in Harrisburg, but when Rosemary discovered it, the gardener pulled her plants up and restored it the way it had been. Melissa was supposed to want to be a lawyer or something better, whatever that might be. Her father wanted to be President, and her mother was determined to get him there. Billy had bought the pot on M Street. M and Wisconsin were a different world from the staid block of old houses mostly flush to the sidewalk and always swarming with workers painting, gardening, tuck-pointing the bricks, primping the houses -- on Wisconsin and on M it was a world of the young, alive and noisy, racially mixed and of all classes. This house was Second Empire, which sounded sinister, and only a hundred twenty-five years old;Rosemary had wanted a federal house of red brick two hundred years old, but those were even more expensive. "It was just pot, Mother," Billy said. His forelock had fallen over his eyes. She fought the impulse to push it back. His hair in the sun beaming through the window was that light red gold called strawberry blond, different from anybody in the family -- not blond like Father and Merilee. Not ordinary light brown hair like Rich Junior and herself. Mother's hair had been blond for years now; it went with her porcelain skin. "You're just fifteen. Are you trying to get expelled again?" Rosemary shook her head in annoyance. He gave Melissa one of those Here-we-go-again looks. Actually Billy did not uch care if he got expelled, as he'd said to her when he was waiting to be called on the carpet -- the two of them sprawled on her bed as always talking in utters and whispers. He had friends at prep school, but he made friends easily and one school was like another to him. This was his third. They always let him get away with a lot before they tossed him because he was the Senator's son, and because he was good at every sport he bothered to try. "I was just going along with the other guys." Melissa said, "In high school, most guys smoke pot sometimes, Mother. Be glad he's not on Ecstasy or heroin. Let's have some perspective." She always tried to make peace between her mother and her younger brother -- if only Billy could manage to seem truly sorry, but he couldn't fake it successfully. He had never taken their mother's reprimands as intensely as she had. She had been a puppyish fool, wagging her tail, fetching slippers, trying, always trying to be someone Rosemary wanted for a daughter. Now her aim with her mother was to be cool. She was an undercover agent playing the dutiful daughter, but they would see. They had no idea who she really was, her deadly skills and her hidden brilliance as she played the part of a too tall, too busty, hardworking high school senior. But under that drab exterior, she was something else, something that would astonish them. Oh, sure. Rosemary ignored her. "Everything you do is visible, Billy. Everything any of us does can come back to haunt your father." Melissa sighed and slumped into a chair. It was a weird curvy chair, which she supposed went with the house, upholstered in nubby blue silk. Her father 's importance. She could not remember when it did not exist. In retrospect, it gilded even the snapshot of him from his Dartmouth days, holding an oar aloft like a captured trophy -- a shot always accompanied by the caption saying that he had gone to the 1968 Olympics with his sculling team. She had learned only two years ago that he had not actually competed -- her aunt Karen told her. Karen cultivated the unusual habit in the Dickinson family of telling the truth, not a trait valued by the rest of the family -- except Billy and her, the two young misfits. Actually Billy was too handsome to be a real misfit ... The Third Child A Novel . Copyright © by Marge Piercy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Third Child: A Novel by Marge Piercy All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.