Although Rita Dove is known primarily as a poet, Through the Ivory Gate offers eloquent proof that she is a talented storyteller capable of spinning a highly readable yarn. Virginia King, the sensitive and highly introspective young heroine of the novel, has just graduated from college with an acting degree as well as a strong commitment to playing the cello. Unable to do either one professionally, she takes a brief job with a troupe of puppeteers. She lands a job in her hometown of Akron spending a month as an artist-in-residence at a local elementary school, where she instructs the children in the art of puppetry.
One of the little girls idolizes Virginia and becomes strongly attached to her, as does Terence, the father of one of her young puppeteers. There are no startling, dramatic moments in the book; the month in Akron is largely an opportunity for Virginia to rediscover her childhood roots and relive (through flashbacks) the most important moments in her life. The point of the book seems to be the way that Virginia defines her life internally; she lives, as it were, in the confines of her powerful imagination and memory. Although she becomes romantically attached to Terence, she leaves Akron at the end of the month with her future still unclear. This interlude, though, has allowed her to take an inventory of her life, thereby defining herself as an artist. At last, she has found the courage to make this supreme commitment, and the book...
(The entire section is 473 words.)