IN THE RIVER SWEET
Henley returns with a worthy successor to her first novel, Hummingbird House. The heroine, Ruth Anne Bond, is a woman of 50, living in Indiana; Johnny, her husband of nearly 30 years, is the proprietor of an upscale restaurant. Everything seems picture perfect until devoutly Catholic Ruth Anne learns that their only daughter, Laurel, is a lesbian. While she adjusts to this revelation (she is more upset by the Church's intolerance than by the fact itself), her own secret past catches up with her: she is contacted by Tin, the illegitimate son she conceived with a blind Vietnamese boy when she was a teenager working in a convent in Saigon. The moral dilemmas attendant upon living with such a secret are sensitively treated and readers' sympathies for each of the troubled characters will be fully engaged. Written from the point of view of Ruth Anne, the tale unfolds in her memories as she relives the events resulting from her stay in Vietnam. But she must also focus on her current problems, including marital discord and a violent attack on Laurel and her lover, Oceana. Though the plot moves back and forth in time a great deal, it is enhanced rather than weakened by this strategy. Henley, who is also a poet, balances long, stream-of-consciousness passages with short, potent sentences to wonderful effect, tilling the familiar ground of sexuality and spirituality with originality and grace. (Oct. 1)
Forecast:Henley's work has appeared in the Pushcart Prize anthology and The Best American Short Stories, and Hummingbird House was a 1999 National Book Award finalist. Expect more of the same kind of attention for her latest.
Release date: 09/01/2002