Holly: 2a Novel

Albert French, Author
Albert French, Author Viking Books $22.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-670-85746-3
Paperback - 307 pages - 978-0-14-024025-2
Paperback - 307 pages - 978-0-8229-5831-4
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Written in prose that struggles to capture the authentic coastal Carolina patois, this disappointing second novel from the author of the acclaimed Billy (1993) is ruefully naive and uneven. Again, French tells a tale of racial injustice and redemption. During the final months of WWII, Holly Hill, an artless 19-year-old poor white girl engaged to her high-school sweetheart, a sailor on duty in the Pacific, avoids total boredom in the backwater of Supply, N.C., by dallying with the few men in town not at war. After writing her fiancee a letter breaking off their engagement, the one-dimensional heroine learns of his death and burial at sea and undergoes a rather unlikely epiphany, retreating into the solitude of grief-induced asceticism. Throughout the first two-thirds of the book, cricket calls and night-bug cries abound as the highly repetitive narrative crawls phlegmatically along without inspiring much interest in--or empathy for--any of its central characters. It all picks up in the final third, however, when Holly encounters Elias, a copper-skinned young black artist from Washington, D.C., who lost an arm in the battle for Europe. Elias is seeking refuge with his grandmother, hoping to heal the wounds to his soul, when he and Holly begin their friendship. With the ominous unfolding of that friendship into forbidden romance, the book comes to life and reaches for a sense of transcendant meaning. The soaring note of redemption French hits at the end of the novel is beautiful and so poignant it may induce tears. But it's not of an aesthetic piece with what preceded it. (May)
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