Sixth-grade teacher Bena Eckerd's biggest fault—outside of crying hysterically every time she walks into a church—is to blame herself for "messing up" every time life deals her a low blow. She was happily married to Bob, or so she thought, until he died in a car accident with another woman at his side. She thinks she has raised her five children well, until her two oldest daughters run off with no-account men, her third moves away with Bena's arch rival, and her eldest son chooses the one woman in the world whose very name causes Bena anguish. She can't believe that good-natured mailman Lucky McKale really loves her, since he is married to Sue Cox, the most beautiful and richest woman in Baxter County, Ala. But after Sue Cox herself agrees to a divorce and blesses their union, Bena finally feels she can accept Lucky's proposal. A new kind of domestic unit is formed, with exes and stepchildren integrated into one colorful family. Then disaster strikes—Lucky disappears. Kincaid is both warmhearted and clear-eyed about the compromises people make to find happiness. Bena and her children are fully dimensional, good at sassy give-and-take and credible in both mundane and dramatic confrontations. Race relationships are gently defined (Bena's best friend is Mayfred, a black colleague), and there's straight talk about religious faith and feminine jealousy and solidarity. Kincaid never lets sentimentality or the sitcom syndrome invade a lively and authentic story of a resilient woman's doubts, troubles, heartbreak and survival, and she crafts her tale with charm, humor and wise understanding. Agent, Liz Darhansoff. Literary Guild selection. (May 17)
Forecast:This novel should take off with strong regional sales in the South, and could achieve a wider audience through word of mouth.