cover image Close to Home

Close to Home

Barbara Hall. Simon & Schuster, $23 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-684-80981-6

Dark secrets, violent deaths and racial and sexual tension pervade Hall's new novel, both a Southern gothic and character study of a strong-willed woman who comes to understand her vulnerabilities. When Lydia Hunt, daughter of a prestigious Washington, D.C., clan, breaks her engagement to her appropriate fiance and precipitously marries Danny Crane, scion of a socially inferior family, her parents and her friends are horrified. Readers, too, realize that nothing good can come of this hasty union between two people who know too little about each other. Lydia attempts to bond with the Cranes of Fawley, a run-down rural Virginia community, but their lives are built upon a foundation of secrets that has turned them all into emotional or physical cripples. Although Danny is the family's golden boy (as opposed to his cousin Kyle, the ""no-good black sheep""), he actually has little control over his life because of an accident that took place long ago. In fact, ""bizarre accidents seemed to visit this family as regularly as the Avon lady."" Hall (A Better Place) conveys the atmosphere of an inbred community where social boundaries are set in stone and outsiders are not welcome. The opening of a mega-store in the community exposes and exacerbates racial tensions and hypocrisies and results in two murders. Meanwhile, one member of the Crane family gets meaner and more sinister; others become more eccentric and unhappy. Yet Hall sustains interest in Lydia's struggles to understand herself and her husband, and she eventually achieves a bittersweet clarity. (July)