The Price of Land in Shelby

Laurie Alberts, Author
Laurie Alberts, Author University Press of New England $35 (330p) ISBN 978-0-87451-782-8
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
Paperback - 330 pages - 978-0-87451-844-3
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Thirty years (from the 1960s to the '90s) in the life of a working-class family living in rural Vermont are traced in this quiet second novel by Alberts. Here, as in her Michener Award-winning first novel, Tempting Fate, a coming-of-age tale set in 1970s Alaska, Alberts is at her best when evoking place. For better or worse, the Chartrain family of Shelby, Vt., is bound to the local land--once farmland but now a grim landscape of trailer homes and ramshackle houses whose yards and driveways are cluttered with junk. Burdened by an abusive father and a sickly mother (who is ultimately diagnosed with cancer), the Chartrain children struggle all their lives merely to get by. Mitchell, the eldest, turns to drug-dealing to support his own family. Donna, an adventurous, intelligent adolescent, finds love with a farmboy. Nancy, the youngest daughter, stays home to take care of her alcoholic father after her mother dies. And Marsha, who yearns for a better life, marries a staunchly lower-class alcoholic like her father. Alberts rotates the stories of these characters (and of others, like Jamie, a steelworker cousin of the Chartrains) as she takes them through the years. This approach, while inventive, disrupts the narrative flow, since some stories are evoked in depth, while others are remarkably slim. Clean prose and empathetic characters, however, compensate for the lax pace and loose structure, rewarding patient readers with a richly observed tale of suffering and survival. (Oct.)
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