cover image The Violet Hour

The Violet Hour

Katherine Hill. Scribner, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4767-1032-7

This debut novel begins strikingly: after an argument with his wife while they are sailing in the San Francisco Bay, Abe Green dives off the boat and swims away%E2%80%94for eight years. The Violet Hour, the title a reference to the evening that draws a sailor homeward in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, chronicles just such a metaphoric journey for Abe, his unfaithful wife Cassandra, a sculptor, and their daughter, Elizabeth. After Abe's dramatic plunge, the story skips forward nearly a decade to the sudden death of Cassandra's father, an esteemed mortician in Bethesda, then flits back and forth across time to Abe and Cassandra's courtship, to Cassandra's infidelities, and to Elizabeth's young adulthood as a medical student and lover first to Kyle, then briefly to the enigmatic Toby. In flashbacks we witness both Elizabeth and earlier, Cassandra, being taken to see bodies lying in wait in the basement of the family funeral home%E2%80%94in one particularly striking scene, Cassandra, whose father recognized her artistic talent, is asked while still a child to paint the face of a dead woman to prepare it for viewing. This is an affecting tale about decent but flawed people%E2%80%94the volatile Cassandra, blazing with helplessness and grief; literal Abe, good at doctoring but bad at messes, and Elizabeth, desperate to find a way to help her parents remember their strengths as they each seek their own violet hours of self-knowledge and forgiveness. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literastic. (July)