Price's best novel in years--fluent as cold water and powered by moral ambivalence and a refusal to grant sentimentality's...

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KATE VAIDEN

Price's best novel in years--fluent as cold water and powered by moral ambivalence and a refusal to grant sentimentality's wishes. Kate Vaiden is 11 in the 1930's when her father Dan kills her mother Frances and then himself (jealousy, Frances' infidelity) in Macon, North Carolina. Kate then is raised by her aunt Caroline and uncle Holt--a child whose courage and grief have admixed into a creature of plucky humor, independence, and an older-than-her-years sense of both misery and mercy. This last mercifulness translates early for her into the physical: when one of her playmates, Gaston, suffers the bodily pains of adolescence, Kate can't see why she shouldn't simply soothe him. The soothing leads, however, to a child--a baby boy, Lee--whom Gaston then never gets to see (he's been killed during pre-WW II Marine training) and whom Kate must raise alone. Except that she doesn't. Rather than live out her days in Macon, in compounded loss, Kate leaves the child with her aunt and uncle and goes to pay an ostensibly temporary visit to a cousin, Walter (a homosexual, a family black sheep), in Norfolk. And from Walter on, Kate will find herself both going to and going from men--helping the seemingly helpless until they need her too much, which is when she departs. And all the while, she tries to deal with the guilt of leaving her son back in Macon, whom she never in the 50 years that follow sees. Written in Kate's aged hand, looking back yet with a remarkable freshness and immediacy, the narrative has both the grace of aphorism (""Strength just comes in one brand--you stand up at sunrise and meet what they send you and keep your hair combed"") and the real complications of truly superior fiction--meaning that is manages to be shapely and unshapely at the same time. Characters speak in a folksy, deflecting manner that's nonetheless very serious (pain at a simmer just below); and the Southern but un-gothic atmospheres act as a foil for the great guilts these people bear with equal dignity. Kate will not plead (nor will Price) for a reader's sympathy; neither does she ever actually obtain it. What she gets--which is just as good if not better--is the most meticulous attention to her very individual-feeling life. And the same attention is paid to Price's style, to every Fine sentence. A distinguished work, emotionally memorable.

Pub Date: June 23, 1986

ISBN: 0684846942

Page Count: -

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1986