cover image A Summons to New Orleans

A Summons to New Orleans

Barbara Hall. Simon & Schuster, $23 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-684-86319-1

Honor squares off against fair play in Hall's (A Better Place; Close to Home) thoughtful third novel. Nora Braxton's life has been slipping out of control. Her husband has left her for a young Red Lobster waitress, her children are in crisis and her crazy/mean mother can't stop saying, ""I told you so."" When vivacious former college roommate Simone Gray, a successful model and television restaurant critic, invites Nora to New Orleans for a ""midlife reunion,"" she jumps at the escape. Once there, she discovers that Simone has also invited their other former roommate, Poppy, an outspoken artist and recently born-again Christian whose religious conversion has resulted in a separation from her Jewish husband. When Simone finally arrives, Nora and Poppy discover the real reason for the summons: Simone wants her two old friends to witness the trial of her rapist. Subplots involve Poppy's abusive father and Nora's strained history with her mother. Facile character sketches belie complex themes in which the relationship between freedom and violence in American life is explored. Hall's keenly sensitive insight into Simone's psychological plight is hard-won: cover copy informs the reader that Helen was herself a victim of rape in New Orleans. A strong and admirable message--about taking responsibility for one's actions, forgiving oneself and moving on--distinguishes Hall's latest. (Aug.) FYI: Hall, an award-winning television writer, is the executive producer of Judging Amy.