cover image Rainlight


Alison McGhee. Papier-Mache Press, $22.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-57601-006-8

Special-ed teacher Starr Williams, father of two young children, is killed snatching a retarded child, Johnny Zielinski, from under the wheels of a truck while Starr's father and Johnny's mother watch. The grief of Starr's children and the secrets of his family life are the subject of this vivid, poetically charged (and occasionally overwritten) first novel. The narrative zigzags between past and present, as Starr's nine-year-old daughter, Mallie, erects an elaborate set of rituals to keep her father alive, force-feeds her younger brother a belief in reincarnation and makes him repeat a litany of Starr's favorite foods and colors. Mallie's voice is so strong, so wrenching in its impact, that it overwhelms the other contributors to the narrative. The tragic coincidences that bind together Starr's extended family, who live in a small town in the foothills of the Adirondacks, are enough to make Charles Dickens blush, but McGhee is a wonderful observer of mourning. Her characters cling to the tangible remains of Starr's life with a credible, poignant urgency that redeems the novel from its frustrating contrivances. 10,000 first printing; author tour. (Mar.)