cover image Cape Ann

Cape Ann

Faith Sullivan. Crown Publishers, $18.95 (342pp) ISBN 978-0-517-56930-6

This is the kind of old-fashioned novel whose period flavor is as enjoyable as the story it tells. Set in the small town of Harvester, Minn., during the Depression, it is narrated by six-year-old Lark Ann Erhardt, who recounts a pivotal year in her life. Since Papa is a clerk on the railroad, spunky Mama Erhardt has converted an empty room in the depot into the family's living quarters while she saves money toward the house she and Lark dream of owning. Arlene Erhardt is a strict but loving mother who requires good manners from Lark but also engages in imaginative play with her daughter. Though she strives to be a dutiful wife, the Erhardt's marriage is incompatible: Papa, a bully and a compulsive gambler, keeps losing the slowly amassed nest-egg in poker games. When Papa beats Lark for biting her nails, she records her angry reactions in a secret notebook called her ""sin list,'' a tally of all the guilty thoughts she must remember to report on her First Communion. The sense of sin the nuns have instilled, combined with a typically childish misconception of how babies are born, involves Lark in an anguished situation when her aunt's baby dies at birth. Death, marital disharmony and the cruelty of some townspeople toward a brain-damaged veteran are some of the adult concerns Lark begins to understand, and finally she is forced to choose between her parents when a crisis moves Mama to action. Sullivan (Mrs. Demming and the Mythical Beast) succeeds in evoking a more innocent era, including such community events as the Knights of Columbus picnic and the Memorial Day parade. She paces her narrative with skill, and if Lark's perceptions are sometimes too precocious for her age, the reader remains involved in a bittersweet story. (May)