cover image The Tiny One

The Tiny One

Eliza Minot, Author Alfred A. Knopf $22 (272p) ISBN 978-0-375-40645-4

Chronicling the same family dynamics and pivotal events as her sister Susan Minot in Monkeys, Eliza Minot makes an impressive debut with this moving novel of a close-knit family disrupted by a sudden, tragic death. The remarkably true voice of eight-year-old Via Mahoney Revere is Minot's triumph here, as the stunned child tries to absorb the fact that her beloved mother has died in a car accident. In a trance of disjointed sorrow, Via retraces the fateful day, recalling the routine progression of her fourth grade classes to the moment when she hears the news. One memory triggers another, flooding her mind with incidents ranging through her secure and protected childhood. Through the layers of episodic recollection emerges a clear and textured picture of a comfortable upper-middle-class Catholic family living in a Massachusetts coastal town, spending summers on an island in Maine, skiing in New Hampshire and sunning in Bermuda. Mum is vibrantly present in all of Via's memories, a tender and actively affectionate maternal figure who jokes with her kids in easy vernacular. Via is the last born of four siblings, and the smallest. Still young enough for kisses and squeezes, she is enveloped in a warm cocoon of loving care; ""small fry,"" her mother calls her fondly, and ""pint-sized."" The bedrock of credibility here, and the source of the book's emotional truth, is Minot's ability to recall a child's fresh sensory perceptions. Abundant humor suffuses the mixture of wonder and bewilderment with which Via tries to interpret the world, and her childish opinions about cereal box prizes and TV cartoons and why she loves pickles. Yet we never forget that a child awakened to grief is summoning these comforting memories as solace. Minot's prose pulses with similes and graceful images. To Via, the ocean on a hot day ""looks like dried paint that a ball would bounce on."" The reader's emotional response rises as the chapters progress toward the moment when Via's life will suffer the irrevocable blow. In its poignant denouement, this narrative of domestic happiness and heartrending grief culminates in a radiant vision of eternal love. 5-city reading tour. (Nov.)