THE EVIDENCE AGAINST HER
Appearing after a decade-long hiatus, Dew's latest novel proves well worth the wait. In her vibrant new work, Dew (Dale Loves Sophie to Death) once again demonstrates her mastery of the nuances of family life; her slow, painstaking accretion of detail, like the cross-hatching on a Dürer etching, produces a rich and resonant landscape fully representative of its time and place. The setting here is Washburn, Ohio, a small town made prosperous by the Scofield engine manufacturer. Lily Scofield, her cousin Warren, and Robert Butler, son of the pastor of the Methodist church, are born on the same day in 1888, and their lives are intimately intertwined. Headstrong, clever Lily is their leader, first in their childhood and later as they mature. When she marries Robert, townspeople gossip that Warren is heartbroken, but the truth lies elsewhere; Warren carries a secret burden that he cannot acknowledge. His marriage to the much younger Agnes Claytor, eldest child in a dysfunctional family, disrupts the threesome's dynamic. World War I ends; the flu epidemic claims several victims. Another generation of children is born and become inseparable. And an accidental death occurs. Under the surface of these events Dew records minute changes in the emotional atmosphere, epiphanic moments that interrupt quotidian routines and small events, such as an argument over a riding habit, that signal domestic crises with lasting repercussions. A marvel of lyrical understatement, the narrative flows like a river—smooth, with surprising depths, some turbulence and the inexorability of time's passing. Does character conspire with fate, or against it? Does love solve problems, or cause them? Both ambiguous and satisfying, the ending is laden with portent, suggesting another novel to come. Meanwhile, the subtlety and complexity of Dew's absorbing story is a signal achievement. (Sept. 19)
Forecast:An arresting cover is a plus for this novel, and critical attention will surely be forthcoming for Dew, the granddaughter of poet John Crowe Ransom. Handselling should alert discerning readers.