Books by Joan V. Schroeder

SOLITARY PLACES by Joan V. Schroeder
Released: Oct. 27, 1994

This better-than-average debut—about rural citizens in Collier, Va., fighting to close down a dump for out-of-state garbage—works because it tackles personal details and lets the big story take care of itself. The author, herself active in a group opposed to a similar Virginia landfill, uses a slow, soothing tone that sometimes makes it difficult to differentiate between the various first-person narratives. She does have a few impressive tricks up her sleeve, however. One of the narrators, Lucy McComb, is a dead woman who sees and knows all, including the destruction of her property to create the dump after her demise. Another, straight-talking Reba Walker, is elected head of Save Our Mountain Environment and leads the group to Richmond to protest to the state government; she also dresses the residents of the nursing home where she works in Save Our Mountain Environment T-shirts. Her nemesis, Sarah Rose McComb, is married to Lucy McComb's nephew, who sold Lucy's land believing that houses would be built there. Since then he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and Sarah is left running ``a break-even store and a farm that was crumbling around [her] ears.'' The novel has its problems. Sarah never seems a formidable enough opponent for Reba, and several long sections that seem at first like digressions take too long to reveal their significance to the story. But Schroeder renders the details of rural life with a clear, sentiment-free eye, and Reba is a feisty heroine: When a television news magazine reporter comments that she promised to bring back some quilts from Collier, Reba wonders what her chances are of selling the woman an old electric blanket instead. Like an elderly relative telling stories—some great, a few dull—and with a canny subtext. Read full book review >