Linda St John, Author . HarperCollins $24 (255p) ISBN 978-0-06-018631-9

A successful "outsider artist" and co-owner of the downtown New York clothing store D.L. Cerney, St. John tells a harrowing and surprising tale of alcoholic, mean-spirited parents and their angry, damaged children. Inspired by her father's brain cancer diagnosis and fueled by understandable rage, these snapshot-like vignettes depict moments of bravery, strength of spirit and survival in the face of hunger, poverty and physical and psychological abuse. Unfortunately, St. John soft-pedals her unsentimental storytelling and the extremity of her tale by assigning each vignette a cutesy title ("Daddy Didn't Need No Savin'") and writing in twangy dialect. In this book, people are forever drinkin', howlin' and beatin' on one another, yet such stylistic quirks are distracting rather than evocative. Readers who can overlook them, however, will be rewarded. While it initially seems like an unrelenting litany of bleakness, this book, like the family in it, is not as it appears. For example, like the father in Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, St. John's father drinks away most of his meager wages, keeping his family nearly destitute. But halfway through the memoir, her father parts company with McCourt's altogether by getting a Ph.D. in molecular biology. As an adult, after a teen pregnancy and an abusive marriage, Linda earns a doctorate in jurisprudence. Other family members also create lives for themselves that seem wholly incongruous with the world that has shaped them. In the end, St. John delivers an admirable, strange and powerful tale. (Aug.)

Forecast:Though her voice is neither as sharp nor as writerly as Dorothy Allison's or Mary Karr's, St. John maintains a stance in this memoir—as well as in her art—that is peculiar and fascinating yet never quite mainstream. Expect solid, but not stellar, sales.

Reviewed on: 05/14/2001
Release date: 08/01/2001
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Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-06-093386-9
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