Cary Holladay, Author . Harmony $22 (320p) ISBN 978-0-609-60814-2

This lackadaisical first novel by short story writer Holladay (The People Down South) gives a mild account of the struggles of the citizens of Hawk Lake, Ark., in the wake of a tour boat accident. Eighteen-year-old Katelynn Troy witnesses the disastrous sinking of the Arkansas Belle from the bedroom windows of her parents' lakefront home; sick from poisoning by mercury, which she smoked in cigarettes as a joke with friends, she is unable to save any of the drowning passengers. The boat's captain, Louisa Shepherd, who began giving boat tours after a long career in nursing, is sued by the irate survivors. Her guilt is exacerbated by youthful memories of her rape as a teenager and giving up her baby for adoption. Holladay slowly unravels the ramifications of the boat's sinking from myriad viewpoints; her soft-pedal style and penchant for the touching personal detail create a sentimental, almost precious feel. The reader often wishes for more clarity, as in the story of Katelynn's mother, Glo, who is having an affair with a neighbor and enjoys a curious, unexplained relationship with Katelynn's father, who is always away on imprecise business in Myanmar, where he has taken up with a new, peasant wife. Holladay is wise to narrow in on the life of Captain Louisa, now in her 50s, gray-haired and easygoing, bewildered by her bad luck and resolved to find the baby she gave up. The improbable but gratifying friendship between Louisa and Katelynn and the arrival in town of a wildly popular, anorexic girl rock group called the Candles bring a sense of sweet beatitude to the conclusion of this buoyant if off-kilter novel. (May)

Reviewed on: 02/11/2002
Release date: 05/01/2002
Ebook - 978-1-4000-4535-8
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