One year, 1952-53, in the aviation-centered lives of the midwestern Rice family--as narrated, round-robin-style, by five...



One year, 1952-53, in the aviation-centered lives of the midwestern Rice family--as narrated, round-robin-style, by five members of the clan. Alice, 63, is a leathery, earthy spinster, a WW I-era barnstormer who still gives flying lessons, does air stunts, and carries on a jolly affair with storekeeper Vern, her widowered brother-in-law; now, however, arthritis is forcing Alice to give up her beloved aeronautics. Alice's plump, flirtatious sister Julia, widowed back in 1914 (her new husband had a test-flight crash), is mostly preoccupied with scatty memories and psychic visions--until an old beau appears on the scene. But the major turmoil here involves the Rice sisters' two nieces, the non-flying daughters of timid Vern and his late wife Anna (who gave up her flying career for marriage, turning into a bossy harridan). Martha, 34, manages the Rice household and its dismal finances; to avoid bankruptcy, she's about to sell off the bulk of the Rice landing field; despite her quasi-feminist resistance, she finds herself becoming seriously involved (pregnancy, commitment) with mechanic Dennis, her latest live-in lover. And, most melodramatically, there's Martha's younger sister Jessie--speechless and semi-catatonic since a mysterious breakdown in 1946, gently tended by handsome schoolteacher/husband Andrew. . . who secretly lusts after Martha. At her best, first-novelist Berges gives this tangle of emotions--nostalgia, frustration, jealousy, loss--a layer of ironic, Chekhovian pathos, complete with Cherry Orchard echoes in the landing-field sale. Too often, however, the churnings become soapy or melodramatic: the true cause (a grim, lurid sex-secret) of Jessie's catatonia;a violent, gothicky end for both Jessie and guilt-ridden Andrew. And, with little real variety in voice or viewpoint, the revolving narration results only in a choppy, thin texture--while a few of the interior monogues (e.g., inside Jessie's crazed mind) seem awkwardly contrived. Solidly atmospheric and sporadically engaging, with a firm accent on flinty/warm feminism--but increasingly overwrought in its pile-up of crises, secrets, and calamities.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 1984


Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1984