In the Fall

Jeffrey Lent, Author Atlantic Monthly Press $25 (542p) ISBN 978-0-87113-765-4
The immediacy of the past, the tensions of race, the crushing weight of guilt and the searing intensity of forbidden love drive Lent's expansive, richly detailed and expertly plotted debut novel. Spanning three generations, from the end of the Civil War through Prohibition, the story begins with an interracial marriage between a Vermont soldier and a runaway slave girl. Nineteen-year-old Norman Pelham is wounded and dying in the woods of Virginia near the end of the war when 16-year-old Leah finds and saves him. She has fled Sweetboro, N.C., after killing her owner's son--her own half brother--when he tried to rape her. Norman and Leah know better than to allow their initial attraction to flower into love, but they cannot ignore their passion, and they marry on the road to Vermont. In brisk, confident detail, Lent recreates many historical scenes--soldiers returning wearily home, cider-pressing time in Vermont, the ins and outs of bootlegging and whiskey-running in the resort mountains of New Hampshire in the '20s. The male characters--Norman, his son and youngest child, Jamie, and Jamie's son, Foster--provide the narrative thread for the novel; but it is Leah whose story thematically unites the lives of husband, son, and grandson. Twenty-five years after her flight, Leah finds that she cannot continue to put the past behind her and must go back to Sweetboro. What she discovers there, and never reveals to her husband or to either of her grown daughters, is a mystery until her grandson Foster finally makes his own trip south. Lent's prose is sometimes lyrical to a fault, but otherwise remarkable for its grace, felicity and precision. Engrossing, wonderfully written, with a full gallery of believable and sympathetic characters, this first novel introduces an ambitious and talented writer. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. BOMC main selection; QPB selection; paperback rights to Vintage; foreign rights sold in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Sweden and Greece. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 03/01/2000
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