Blameless

Lisa Reardon, Author
Lisa Reardon, Author Random House (NY) $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-375-50405-1
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7927-2391-2
Paperback - 978-1-58724-054-6
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Again basing her fiction in a small, blue-collar community, the author of the well-received Billy Dead has produced an insightful, empathetic novel about a woman coming to terms with her past. Divorced at 34, Mary Culpepper drives a school bus in a working-class town in northern Michigan and reigns as the leading hitter on the local softball team. She has also recently returned from a short stay in a psychiatric ward after a nervous breakdown she cannot explain to her family and friends, or to herself. A lifetime of repressed grief and anger lies beneath her insouciant attitude, and struggles to find expression. Reardon reveals crucial information about Mary's life in small increments, generating a fine narrative tension. Mary's best friend, Amy, married Carl, Mary's former husband, after a year-long clandestine affair, and Mary, unable to confront either of them, vowed to remain friends, even serving as Amy's bridesmaid. Mary's relationship with her mother and two younger sisters is also filled with secrets and unspoken resentment. She keeps all three at arm's length, unable to face her feelings of failure or to address the memories of her past: as a child she went bar-hopping with her philandering father; later, she was traumatized by a botched abortion. Mary finds a soulmate in one of her school-bus charges, 12-year-old Julianna. But when she meets Julianna's father, John Coleros, she gives in to the powerful force of mutual attraction. Other tensions include the death of a six-year-old girl, whose body Mary discovered on her bus route. Mary's testimony at the ensuing trial, coupled with a tragic accident that decides the outcome of her relationship with John, provides the catalyst she needs to finally address her pain and anger. Her struggle to learn emotional honesty and responsibility makes Mary a compelling heroine, and the many details of small-town life (bread-baking competitions, softball leagues, card games at the neighborhood bar) add texture to the narrative. Agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh. 4-city author tour. (May)
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