cover image Beaming Sonny Home

Beaming Sonny Home

Cathie Pelletier. Crown Publishers, $21 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-517-59797-2

In her fifth novel (after A Marriage Made at Woodstock) Pelletier again brings to life the lumpenproletariat of the economically depressed hamlet of Mattagash, Maine, depicting their limitations with candor and wit, and their hardscrabble lives with compassionate understanding. She portrays 66-year-old doughty, tart-tongued Mattie Gifford and her family in a moment of crisis that verges on the comic until the dark thread of tragic chance predominates. The eponymous Sonny is Mattie's adored, spoiled 36-year-old wastrel son, her favorite child by far, since his three older sisters are mean, lazy, jealous and greedy. ""Sweet talking, heartbreaking, good looking'' Sonny bursts onto national TV after taking two women and a dog hostage in his ex-wife's trailer. As the world awaits Sonny's press conferences, his older sisters move back into Mattie's tiny house, where their bickering, smoking and nonstop criticism drive her crazy. Mattie is also forced to think about her life, especially her marriage to an openly philandering husband and her betrayal by her best friend (among other women) while the small community looked on. Pelletier's evocation of small-town life is pungent and colorful, her ear for the vernacular keen. But this book is marred by the depiction of the Gifford sisters, an unappealing bunch who verge on caricature and whose behavior in the family's darkest hour is more the stuff of sitcoms than real life. In addition, Mattie's slow-motion, disassociated thoughts put a brake on the tension during the denouement, in which her actions subscribe more to plot necessity than psychological credibility. So while much of the narrative is entertaining and affecting, the ending is a major disappointment that nearly negates the homespun wisdom of the earlier pages. (May)