Coyle's first fiction resembles that of the Irish novelist William Trevor--prose efficient yet rich as summer rain, and...



Coyle's first fiction resembles that of the Irish novelist William Trevor--prose efficient yet rich as summer rain, and sounding and infusing the whole is a sense of melancholy at the slipping away of time, of safety, certainty, and the affections. Here, eight chapters intuit the currents of love and discovery at various points in the growing up of a daughter of a Methodist minister in 1950's Florida. ""My father. . .never a strong 'pulpit' man, rose quite slowly in the hierarchy of Southern Methodism. . .a liberal with advanced degrees [he'd] smoked cigarettes in the navy."" Carrie Willis' religion was orderly and, like her father, good-natured, so it was a shock to the nine-year-old and her older sister when they learned that their father (""so beyond his congregation's notion of good taste"") had agreed to immerse (baptize) a large woman in the ocean. There follow some days of clattering worry, cohering in a lovely comic turn in the sea (as clergyman and the pious woman abruptly disappear); wide-eyed witnessing by Canie's sometime playmate, a Baptist preacher's daughter (""a dirty yard girl with impetigo below the knee""); and on the ocean ""light that scorched the waters."" In further chapters, a wash of incident and image again creates within the child a whirlwind of emotion leading to new ground: Grandmother's conversion to the Seventh-Day Adventists and an escaped bird result in unpleasant discoveries about seemingly immutable laws--and about God (who, in later soul-searching, seemed to be there ""waiting and worried""). Other chapters deal with: the spectacle of a police chiefs bizarre (and perverse) partying; an elderly great-aunt's infatuation; the gruesome hobby of a disturbed boy and, in school, the enforced thud of conformity to end a delicate tradition; and the enlivening, terrible flush of feelings at the death of a young girl. At the close, there's an elegy for the adult Carrie's parents and their worlds. In an empty Manhattan church--or on a tour with her finely tempered, quaintly conscienced mother--Carrie sees a past of spiritual commitment in images of gentle, prehistoric beasts, gone forever. A fine new talent.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 1990


Page Count: -

Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1990