Sheri Joseph, Author . Atlantic Monthly $23 (259p) ISBN 978-0-87113-841-5

The lives of two troubled Georgia families intersect in Joseph's debut novel, a gutsy, realistic and lyrical portrait of country people struggling to find meaning in their constricted lives. The narrative touches on many contemporary issues, including AIDS, homophobia, racism and religious fundamentalism, while chronicling several problematic love relationships. Horse trainer Sidra Ballard is the tough, beautiful 20-something protagonist in love with Curtis, a redneck homophobic bass player in a local band. Though an unlikely pair, the two can't keep their hands off each other and decide to marry. But relationship trouble comes in the form of Curtis's younger step-brother, Paul, a troubled homosexual teen with a penchant for picking up older men. Curtis is disgusted by Paul's behavior, but Sidra, who earlier lost a sister to AIDS, longs to protect Paul. Meanwhile Kent, a member of Curtis's band, is unexpectedly attracted to Paul and a love affair begins between the two men. A large cast of characters takes turns narrating the story, their identities often obscure to the reader, who must concentrate to distinguish them. Joseph works hard at making all of them sympathetic despite their limited views of the world and their inbred prejudices. Her prose can be stiff in places, but the chorus of voices eventually coalesces into an affecting narrative that explores the way people accept or reject the responsibilities of nurturing and love. Agent, Jay Acton. (Apr.)

Forecast:Joseph's first novel falls somewhere between cozy Southern fiction and Bastard Out of Carolina territory, skirting cliché but still delivering a happy ending—a nice handsell for readers (particularly in the South) who are looking to expand their horizons, but still want some of the comforts of home.

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 259 pages - 978-0-8021-3984-9
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