cover image A Place to Call Home

A Place to Call Home

Deborah Smith. Bantam Books, $23.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-553-10334-2

A gracefully written and absorbing tale of a stubborn young woman's maturation amid a self-involved Southern clan, Smith's (Silk and Stone) sixth novel is a page-turner. Claire Mahoney is the fiercely independent daughter of the most prominent family in the insular small town of Dunderry, Ga., where class and race distinctions are fiercely observed. At the bottom of the tier is ""white trash"" widower Roan Sullivan, a disabled, alcoholic veteran and his son, Roanie. Claire sees the special qualities in this suspicious and distrustful boy and eventually wins Roanie's friendship. After his father is jailed, Roanie lives with the Maloneys, and becomes Claire's unequivocal protector--even killing his own father when he assaults Claire. The frightened Maloneys send Roanie to a boys' home, from which he disappears. During the ensuing 20 years, Claire establishes herself as a crusading journalist. When she is injured in a murderous attack on the subject of her award-winning series on domestic violence, Claire comes home to Dunderry. She is listless and depressed until an unexpected reunion with a now worldly and wealthy Roanie reveals a shocking secret: during his fugitive years, Roanie raised the illegitimate son of a disreputable local woman and, allegedly, Claire's uncle. Soon, other dark secrets are revealed. Claire's elegiac voice, and the dark burden of guilt that haunts the narrative, prove seductive. Smith avoids melodrama as Claire, Roanie and others prove that with pure hearts people can transcend a troubled past. (Aug.)