Summit Avenue

Mary Sharratt, Author Coffee House Press $14.95 (252p) ISBN 978-1-56689-097-7
In this remarkable debut, Minnesota native Sharratt--coordinator of the Munich Writers Workshop--weaves dark, evocative fairy tales and passionate longings into an incandescent coming-of-age story. Orphaned by the age of 16, German native Kathrin Albrecht is sent to America in 1912, where she barely ekes out a living sewing flour bags for the Pillsbury Mill in Minneapolis. Finding sanctuary in an antique bookstore, she befriends the owner, Jan Jelinik, and his nephew, John, who, as immigrants, face similar struggles. While John troubles Kathrin by reminding her of her outsider status, he also introduces the young woman to one of his wealthy American customers, Violet Waverly. A professor's widow, Violet hires Kathrin to assist her with one of her husband's unfinished projects--translating foreign fairy tales--offering her salary, room and board in the Waverly home on Summit Avenue, an upper-class enclave of St. Paul, and irrevocably transforming Kathrin's world. The two lonely women forge an unusual connection that grows into a symbiotic companionship, fulfilling needs that neither individual fully discloses until Violet crosses a line that abruptly forces Kathrin into a relationship with John. As Kathrin's emotional world crumbles around her, she finds an inner strength and discovers the answer to her yearning for a genuine loving relationship. Sharratt infuses Kathrin's story with sensuality, insight and poetic observation: ""Flat-bottomed, curly-topped prairie clouds were sailing like steamships across the deep blue sky."" These and other haunting images, as well as her inspired use of folklore and mythology, add depth to this potent tale. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/01/2000
Release date: 05/01/2000
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