Reynolds Price. Scribner Book Company, $25 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-684-83292-0
Many of the virtues that have endeared Price (Kate Vaiden) to readers are present in this story of a North Carolina woman and several generations of her family. Price's musically cadenced, nostalgia-washed prose, plangent with portent and loss and vibrant with imagery, is as beguiling as ever. His picture of life in the South a century ago is imbued with candor about customs and attitudes--especially those concerning women and race. Equally evident is his tendency to construct improbably melodramatic events, a propensity that almost throws the novel off course. In the space of three hours on her 20th birthday in 1920, Roxanna Dane meets Larkin Slade, accepts his proposal of marriage and watches him drown. Even in the few pages it takes to recount these events, Price so thickly foreshadows tragedy that one grows impatient. Most of what happens to Roxanna for the first half of the book is strictly interior, a mystical soul-searching that has little to do with outside events: ""I almost think the main part of my life has passed in my mind, hid even from me,"" she muses. Yet Price excels in documenting the remainder of Roxanna's life with sensitive attention to emotional detail, especially in his well-grounded descriptions of her debilitating clinical depression. And after Roxanna marries Larkin's brother Palmer, bears his children and learns about his infidelity, the second half of the novel perks up with some old-fashioned soap-opera juice--thanks mainly to the horrendous legacy of slavery and its repercussions. The same voice that was overwrought when trying to describe a young girl's awakening becomes more interestingly idiosyncratic when looking at the New South, which Roxanna lives to experience and describe. (May) FYI: Price's earlier novels, Kate Vaiden and Clear Pictures, are being reissued to coincide with this novel's publication.
Reviewed on: 05/04/1998