Poet Callen's first novel, set at the turn of the century, tells of the love and friendship between two women--a story that,...

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CHARITY

Poet Callen's first novel, set at the turn of the century, tells of the love and friendship between two women--a story that, for all its up-to-date politics, is really an old-fashioned celebration of its title virtue. Lena and Will Kaiser, longtime residents of Charity, South Dakota, have always stuck by each other, despite their childless marriage, Will's drinking problems, and his loutish, quarrelsome family. When a drunken Willis arrested after he is observed leaving the scene of his father's murder, no one believes that this peaceable man is actually the killer, but Lena lacks the money to hire a lawyer or post bail. Enter Gustie Roemer, a schoolteacher recently arrived from back east. Unbeknownst to the community, Gustie traveled to South Dakota with her ailing lover, Clare, who died shortly after arriving. Still mourning Clare, Gustie is tormented by nightmares that are dispelled only by hanging the dead woman's nightgown near her bed. Though preoccupied with her own sorrow, Gustie is moved to become the Kaisers' secret benefactor, using Clare's inheritance to buy Lena groceries and to get Will out of jail. Meanwhile, Gustie has become acquainted with Dorcas, an elderly Sioux woman, and her beautiful, troubled granddaughter Jordis, who still bears scars from the beatings white teachers gave her for youthful rebelliousness. Gustie's loyalties are torn as she and Jordis fall in love, despite Gustie's deepening friendship with Lena, who can't understand Gustie's closeness to Jordis and the Indian community. But as Kaiser family tensions unfold, Lena learns the virtues of tolerance and kindness, while Gustie finds the strength to confront her own past. Despite a few excessively lyrical flourishes, an unusually satisfying tale, combining an engrossing mystery, a lovingly etched portrait of a community, and an appreciation for the moral resilience of strong women.

Pub Date: May 1, 1997

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997