Life Estates

Shelby Hearon, Author Alfred A. Knopf $22 (231p) ISBN 978-0-679-41539-8
It's always a pleasure to watch a writer mature, and in her 13th novel (after Hug Dancing ), Hearon offers plenty of satisfaction to the discriminating reader. Here she explores the mysteries and ironies of marriage, friendship, parentage and love with a frank, searching and compassionate eye. Friends since boarding school days, Sarah Rankin and Harriet Calhoun have lived synchronous lives in South Carolina and Texas: both married bankers, had two children and were widowed in their 50s, within a few months of each other. The way they deal with widowhood and, indeed, with their own mortality is the starting point of this engrossing novel. To Sarah, who never enjoyed the ``bondage'' of marriage and chafed over the societal biases against married women (the inability to get one's own credit card, etc.), it's a relief to live singly again. She runs a thriving custom wallpaper business, pursues a relationship with her late husband's physician. Though Harriet's marriage was little better than Sarah's, she is devastated: ``I feel like I've lost my job: wife.'' While Sarah's daughter seems obsessed with having children in quick succession, Harriet's offspring seems determined to be barren, and the younger man Harriet wants to take to bed has yet to succumb to her blandishments; but suddenly a new development wipes away all thoughts but survival. Hearon writes with energy and acuity; her wit takes the form of sharp apercus about human nature and society. If her themes are darker here than in previous books, her voice is stronger, more outspoken, and she wisely eschews easy answers to life issues. The narrative speaks instead of grace under pressure, of carrying on after loss and grief, of affirming the day and looking bravely at the future. It's a thoughtful and honest book, with real relevance to our lives. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/1994
Release date: 02/01/1994
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 334 pages - 978-0-7862-0262-1
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-679-75796-2
Ebook - 133 pages - 978-0-307-79068-2
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