A third South Carolinian drama of family ties and unresolved tragedies from Warlick (The Summer After June, 2000, etc.).
When her brother Denny is pulled through the window of his car and beaten up, probably because of some woman he carelessly bedded, narrator Joan hightails it to his house to see what she can do. After all, she lives in a nearby town; her husband Marshall, an insurance company adjuster, is away from home, as usual; and her job as an archivist for a local preservation foundation is extremely flexible, bestowed as it was by a rich friend of her Daddy. Since Joan’s mother died of cancer a few years back, neither domineering Daddy nor wild, reckless Denny has been really right. Joan herself is desperate to have a baby, even though her marriage contains some very big silences and she’s still grieving for both her mother and her childhood friend Bannon. Heavy hinting makes it not too surprising when Joan confesses halfway through the text that she and Bannon became lovers just before his mysterious death in Mexico; nor will readers be shocked by the suggestion that another childhood friend, suave drug-dealer Lewis, had something to do with it. Plot isn’t the point here, though there’s certainly plenty of it: Warlick, under the evident and not always beneficial influence of Faulkner, aspires to Deep Truths about family, love, and history. Her prose is strongly wrought but perilously ripe; too many sentences reek of significance that the substance doesn’t justify (“Like an act of God, there’s a run in my stockings”). The author impresses when she delicately traces the insufficiency of southern whites’ good intentions in a subplot involving bones dug up at a local cemetery. She merely annoys, however, when she invests sex between Joan and Marshall with the portentousness of a battlefield encounter, or gives each of her characters enough lurking, underarticulated back-story to fuel three more novels.
No question about Warlick’s talent and seriousness, but she could use a subtler touch.