Chinaberry Album

Ruth Coe Chambers, Author Mercury House $16.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-916515-31-7
The sly innocence of nine-year-old Anna Lee Owens as she exposes the skeletons in the closets of Bay Harbor's respected citizens is the means through which the reader comprehends events in this subtly ominous first novel. The child Anna Lee mouths ""Yes, ma'am,'' like a proper small-town Floridian, but her sophisticated inner demon prods her to find out why God-demented Miss Red (owner of the chinaberry tree) continues to be called ``Miss'' even though she has a flesh-and-blood daughter, and what secret compels beautiful Helen Armstrong to stay with a husband who beats her. Of greatest significance, however, is Anna Lee's beloved Uncle Johnn, a rakehell now living placidly in the bosom of the family, but mysteriously tied to dead Aunt Grace who, even in the grave, is still regarded with suspicion. Like most backwater villages, Bay Harbor is rank with nasty little secrets, whose intimations Anna Lee examines with not-quite-informed interest. Eventually, she develops a secret of her own: her real Mama, she learns, is Aunt Grace, now perceived to be the romantic object not only of Uncle Johnn but of Daddy himself. Chambers's auspicious debut is marred somewhat by her ambitious effort to view events exclusively through a child's eyes, but the narrative rarely falters in tone or in the sense of hushed anticipation it conveys. (April)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1988
Release date: 03/01/1988
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