cover image Hot Fudge Sundae Blues

Hot Fudge Sundae Blues

Bev Marshall, . . Ballantine, $23.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-345-46843-7

Layla Jay, the endearing young narrator of Marshall's third novel (following Right as Rain ), fakes salvation at the age of 13 to impress a boy at church. Religious themes play a large role in this coming-of-age tale set in the early 1960s, but the story actually revolves around a different kind of faith—a faith in people and in family, despite all their flaws. Layla Jay leads a relatively happy life in her small Mississippi town, but when her flakey alcoholic mother marries a hypocritical revivalist preacher, their home is thrown into chaos, and Layla Jay comes to realize that God answers prayers in perplexing and often painful ways. In the scattered, melodramatic first half of the book, disasters befall Layla Jay and her family one after another: her grandmother dies, her mother survives a near-fatal car accident, and Layla Jay escapes her stepfather's attempt to rape her only when her mother finishes him off with a 7-Up bottle. The second half of the novel then deepens into an exploration of the consequences of deceit and the nature of familial love. Throughout, Marshall propels the story with all-too-human characters whose faults are enormous and whose mistakes are almost inexcusable, but who are never beyond forgiveness. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. 7-city author tour. (Sept.)