Silk Hope, N.C.

Lawrence Naumoff, Author
Lawrence Naumoff, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $21.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-15-188900-6
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-15-600207-3
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Versatility is Naumoff's hallmark; he never writes the same book twice. While individually distinctive, his novels ( Rootie Katzootie ; Taller Women , etc.) are arrestingly perceptive, candid and provocative, and each of them demonstrates an uncommon ability to limn compelling female characters. Here he creates a heroine who is difficult to like, and then performs a small miracle by inspiring in the reader first grudging affection and eventually love and understanding. Frannie Vaughan is any mother's nightmare: she is wild, heedless, reckless, promiscuous, too smart-mouthed for her own good. Frannie is so irresponsible that she misses her mother's death and funeral, which only serves to deepen her feelings of loneliness, self-loathing and depression--feelings that started in childhood when her father walked out without a backward glance. Now Frannie and her sister Natalie have inherited the house and farmland in Silk Hope, N.C.; it's a family tradition meant to protect the daughters in the line by providing a sanctuary ``no matter what occurred between them and the men in their lives.'' Natalie, however, is engaged to a man who advises her to sell the acreage. Frannie's deepest instincts cry out against the loss, but she keeps getting herself into ridiculous predicaments that make it less and less likely that she will attain emotional equilibrium, much less get her life together and prevent the sale. Naumoff details the story's events in a plot so dextrous and unpredictable that the reader's expectations are confounded again and again. He also keeps readers off balance via his narrative method: at frequent intervals (often in the middle of an exchange of dialogue), he steps back from the action to meditate on society, nature, the battle between the sexes. Here the subtext is the plight of women who violate society's shibboleths regarding appropriate female behavior, and Naumoff's message is wry and acutely accurate. Compassionate understanding and humor illuminate this understated yet dazzling work. (June)
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