The Sabbathday River
Jean Hanff Korelitz. Farrar Straus Giroux, $25 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-374-25323-3
When Naomi Roth pulls the body of a stabbed infant girl from the Sabbathday River, she precipitates an investigation that devastates the small New Hampshire town she hoped to save. Smart and engrossing, this thriller addresses the complex morality behind its characters' behavior with gravity and deep humanity. Idealistic Vista volunteer and New York Jewish liberal in search of a cause, Naomi turns local crafts into a booming catalogue business by the mid-'80s but never quite fits into the tightly knit New England community whose secrets unravel as townsfolk point fingers--mostly at Heather Pratt, the proud and lonely girl who delicately embroiders traditional samplers and unapologetically bears the illegitimate child of a married man. Naomi sees little of the sisterhood she preaches among Heather's co-workers and neighbors, excepting only recent arrival Judith Friedman, a fellow Jewish New Yorker who befriends Naomi and defends the modern-day Hester in court. It turns out, however, that even Judith has her secrets. Korelitz (A Jury of Her Peers) traces the evolution of '60s idealism to '80s self-absorption, feminist vision to emotional chaos, religious devotion to moral decay. After the trial's dramatic climax, the reader is left with disturbing insights into the roots and ramifications of infanticide. Korelitz securely navigates the scientific shoals surrounding the crime. Her rich, often lyrical language occasionally becomes fussy but in general serves her well in conveying local color and atmosphere and in describing the moments of passion and betrayal in this compelling study of modern women with old-fashioned desires. 100,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB main selections; rights sold in Germany and Italy. (Apr.) FYI: Korelitz is married to poet Karl Muldoon.
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999
Mass Market Paperbound - 528 pages - 978-0-515-13011-9
Other - 250 pages - 978-1-4668-0679-5