The Wine of Astonishment

Rachel MacKenzie, Author
Rachel MacKenzie, Author Turtle Point Press $13.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-885983-17-6
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Hardcover - 241 pages - 978-0-8161-6249-9
Hardcover - 154 pages - 978-0-670-77217-9
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It comes as no surprise that the author of this quietly moving tale of two well-to-do sisters was, from 1956 to 1978, fiction editor at the New Yorker: the elegiac refinement of the novel (first published to acclaim in 1973) couldn't be more redolent of the late, lamented ""old"" version of that magazine. When religious matriarch Emmeline Henderson (""Hendersons were the backbone of First Presbyterian Church"") dies in the Finger Lakes town of Pliny Falls, N.Y., early in the century, she leaves behind two grown daughters so sheltered that the townspeople worry what will become of them. One of them, 32-year-old Martha, falls for David, the new minister in town, but their shy courtship progresses slowly. Twenty-nine-year-old Esther--who despite her mother has already enjoyed a (quickly suppressed) romance with ""a godlike young man the Mormons had hired to put on an Entertainment""--now begins an affair with the married man across the street. Mackenzie captures with vivid subtlety the lack of privacy afforded by a turn-of-the-century small town as Esther's affair grows from planned encounters at the cemetery and post office into a scandal that threatens to disrupt the placid surface of Pliny Falls. At times, the tone of this slim novel is almost too reserved (one has the feeling these characters never raise their voices above a whisper), but it offers a glimpse of a vanished and charming world, and it does so with an all-but-vanished charm of its own. (Sept.)
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