cover image Better Place

Better Place

Barbara Hall. Simon & Schuster, $21 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-671-78422-5

In this first adult novel by Hall, author of the young-adult Dixie Storms and of scripts for TV series including Northern Exposure , former ambitious golden girl Valerie Caldwell returns to her sleepy hometown of Maddock, Va., only to learn the unsurprising lesson that you can't go home again. Not only have Valerie's marriage and career as an actress crashed, but her new life back home is failing to match her nostalgic fantasies. Wallowing in her unhappiness, she cuts a path of destruction through the lives of her old friends and family. Valerie's former pals, the mild-mannered Tess and the once fat, now thin and acerbic Mary Grace, fear her and the feelings of inadequacy she inspires. Tess--who is married to Valerie's former flame, Joe Deacon--is particularly wary as Joe responds to Valerie's flirtations, revealing cracks in a seemingly perfect marriage. Meanwhile, Valerie, who's toying with the idea of an affair with Brett Becker, a cadet half her age, generates gossip as well as heartache. The narrative is hindered by some soap-operatic subplots and by virtually indistinguishable interior monologues. However, Hall's penchant for melodrama may make this a good bet for the beach. (Aug.)