In her first novel, A Space Apart (1979), Willis sought the vital pulse of family connection; in the less successful but...



In her first novel, A Space Apart (1979), Willis sought the vital pulse of family connection; in the less successful but often moving Higher Ground, she explored society's exclusionary boundaries in a West Virginia town. Here, in an uneven yet appealing mix of social and personal themes, Willis sets a naive West Virginia college freshman on a search for connection and snug harbors of belonging. . . before she ""lands on her own two feet."" Blair Ellen Morgan, attending a ""calm, clean, excruciatingly safe"" Christian college, feels that her life has no direction--until assistant-chaplain Dave Rivers (bearded, sloppy, hip) sends forth a Call for social action in Inner City ghettos. One other freshman has also been speared by the Call: Roy Critchfield, an irritatingly evangelical misfit of a mountain boy, ""pitiful and absurd."" So off go Dave and Blair and Roy to the black rural town of South Jenkin, Virginia, as VISTA workers all set for Good Works. Soon, however, Blair has some disillusionments: Dave (now her lover) grows distant, listening to the oily pronouncements of two white Poverty Agency directors (""all glasses and ears, his voice regular and flat, the passion squeezed out""); he turns Blair's landmark success--having a poor tenant's toilet fixed--into a hyped-up tenants' movement. Meanwhile, Blair plunges into making friends in the black community, working alongside Jewish Shelley from New York and black Spencer--breaking through and sharing sagging-front-porch gossip, moving projects along erratically (a teenage dance, a food co-op undermined by white business). But, just as it becomes clear that Dave is not going to take care of her, Blair also realizes that her other sanctuaries--the VISTA ""family,"" the front porch belonging, an affair with Spencer--are built on shifting sand. (And, as for VISTA accomplishment, ""there's a limit to what guests can do."") True, Blair's identity-crisis odyssey seems a bit ponderous here, especially in contrast to the lightly sketched maze of bi-cultural taboos. But, to better effect than in Higher Ground, Willis again picks meaningfully at the charge-laden fences between peoples, castes, and individual needs.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1984

ISBN: 0965404315

Page Count: -

Publisher: Scribners

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1984