American Earthquakes

Constance Urdang, Author Coffee House Press $9.95 (144p) ISBN 978-0-918273-42-0
In this stunning novel, the apparently ordinary lives and personal dramas of three St. Louis sisters and their families unfold in a collage of short vignettes, fragmentary poems and news clippings. The siblingsthe spinster Helen and the two widows Tess and Ethelhave set up housekeeping in their deceased parents' apartment. Binnie, their niece, wonders ``how could all three have come back to live in the place from which, as girls, they must surely have dreamed of escaping.'' Urdang (Lucha), a poet, explores each woman's flight and return in her complex patchwork, as well as the power struggles and relationships at the hospital where Binnie works. The various characters worry that they are leading uneventful existences``What if nothing ever happens?'' echoes throughout the elegant novelwhile all around them life rolls forward. Quotes from news articles on the earthquake phenomenon are interspersed throughout, demonstrating how daily realities both contrast sharply with and parallel the random, impersonal violence of nature. It is precisely the climactic earthquake that jolts each character into a self-assessment. For example, ailing Helen is reminded that her remaining years are precious and not to be relinquished. Binnie is less resolved than her aunts. ``Suffused with regret for not having used her life better,'' she holds out her ``two fists clenched in a physical effort to cling to a single instant in time.'' (July)
Reviewed on: 08/05/1988
Release date: 08/01/1988
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