Booksellers should send up three cheers of greeting for this haunting second novel by the author of The Book of Ruth , a beautifully developed and written story reminiscent of the work of Sue Miller and Jane Smiley. A piercing picture of domestic relationships under the pressure of calamitous circumstances, it poignantly addresses the capricious turns of fate and the unyielding grip of regret. Alice and Howard Goodwin and their two young daughters live on the last remaining dairy farm on the outskirts of Racine, Wisc. The farm is Howard's dream, realized with infusions of money from his disapproving mother; but Alice, who is disorganized, skittery and emotionally volatile, is constitutionally unsuited to be a farmer's wife. Her solace is her best friend Theresa, who also has two little girls for whom they alternate days of babysitting. One hot, dry June morning, in the middle of a soul-parching drought, Alice daydreams for a few, crucial minutes while the four girls play. She has rediscovered the map of the world that she made after her own mother died when she was eight; it was an attempt to imagine a place where she would always feel safe and secure. In that short time, one of Theresa's daughters drowns in the Goodwins' pond. As outsiders from the city, the Goodwins have never been accepted in their small community, which now closes forces against them. Still grieving and filled with remorse, Alice, a school nurse, is accused by an opportunistic mother of sexually molesting her son. She is arrested, and since Howard cannot raise bail, she remains in jail, where she suffers but also learns a great deal about human frailty and solidarity. Meanwhile, Howard and the girls undergo their own crucible of fire. Among Hamilton's gifts is a perfect ear for the interchanges of domestic life. The voices of Alice and Howard, who narrate the tale, have an elegiac, yet compelling tone as they look back on the events that swept them into a horrifying nightmare. In counterpoint to the shocks that transform their existence, the drudgery of the daily routine of farm life has rarely been conveyed with such fidelity. Fittingly, however, the death of their hopes as a family coincides with Howard's realization that the farmer's way of life is disappearing as well. The last third of the book, detailing Alice's incarceration among mainly black inmates, is astonishingly perceptive and credible, opening new dimensions in the narrative. One wants to read this powerful novel at one sitting, mesmerized by a story that has universal implications. BOMC and QPB selection. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/02/1994 Release date: 05/01/1994 Genre: Fiction
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