RUBY RIVER

Lynn Pruett, Author
Lynn Pruett, Author . Atlantic Monthly $24 (256p) ISBN 978-0-87113-855-2
Hardcover - 464 pages - 978-0-7862-5144-5
Paperback - 279 pages - 978-0-8021-4039-5
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Alabama fundamentalists wage a holy war against a local truck stop in Pruett's evocative but flawed debut. Comely widow Hattie Bohannon already has her hands full running her new truck stop, dealing with her four unruly girls and fending off the (partially welcome) advances of Sheriff Paul Dodd. Now she has a new worry: the Church of the Holy Resurrection, led by sex-starved Bible-thumper Rev. Martin Peterson, has exposed her eldest daughter Jessamine's adulterous affair with a church member. To Reverend Peterson and his flock, Jessamine is a "prostitute," and the truck stop is a den of iniquity, better off shut down in favor of a "steakhouse for families administered by Christians." But Hattie is determined to keep her business afloat, even if it means capitulating in personal battles with her daughters and Sheriff Dodd. Pruett vividly captures the sweat-soaked atmosphere of the Bible Belt, but sometimes her language is so larded with imagery that it's incomprehensible ("Jewell... felt a twinge, like a loose tooth hanging by a thread, only it was hanging somewhere in her midsection, close to the ribs"). She switches arbitrarily between first- and third-person chapters; when the characters narrate, they sound unnaturally highbrow ("My virginity vanished quickly, not in a progression of stumbling steps"). It's hard to get a grip on these folk, several of whom, like the Reverend Petersen's coolly elegant, ecstatically pious, Eve-worshipping wife, Stelle, seem a collection of traits that don't quite hang together. Though Pruett constructs the novel as a contest between church and truck stop, she shows so little sympathy for the Reverend and his congregation that the violent, bitter conclusion seems foregone. Agent, Amy Williams, ICM. (Sept.)

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