Kentuckiana

Johnny Payne, Author
Johnny Payne, Author Triquarterly Books $30 (255p) ISBN 978-0-8101-5075-1
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-8101-5090-4
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The travails of the deeply troubled but endearing Miles family--Jean and Constance and their children, Judy, Stephen, Elaine, Talia and Lynnette--are played out against the backdrop of early-1970s suburban Lexington, Ky., in this darkly funny, moving second novel from the author of Chalk Lake. Both generations recount their brushes with divorce, addiction and domestic violence through a series of chapter-long monologues. These begin with precocious, 15-year-old Talia's hospital-bed tale of her rape, abortion, suicide attempt and continuing suicidal urges--a rant filled with resilience, fierce intelligence and macabre wit. Her flighty big sister Judy uses the various men in her life to tell her story: at 19, she escapes from her lover, a Charles Manson wannabe, only to marry an abusive heroin addict, all the while craving her father's love and approval. Stephen, the guilt-ridden intellectual of the clan, is obsessed with protecting his rebellious sisters and preserving, in words, his family's history--quite a challenge when each of them hovers on the brink of self-destruction. And Jean, the alcoholic though well-intentioned patriarch, provides the last monologue, in which he describes how he's haunted by his redneck past. Payne takes a great risk when he introduces the fictional ""author"" of the Miles family saga (who also happens to be the planner of their housing development), a painfully self-aware narrator who mocks his own anxiety before the overcrowded, imposing Southern literary tradition: How (he worries) can a modern-day suburb stand up to Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County? This metafictional game is perhaps too clever, but it should not distract readers from Payne's greater achievement: the remarkable Mileses themselves. (Oct.)
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