AUGUST HEAT by Beth Lordan


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Small-town life proves as oppressive as the heat and humidity in this unusual first novel with its deliberate biblical echoes and Faulknerian strains. In Lordan's densely written narrative, muted passions--and dreams of life elsewhere--ripen in a hothouse of desire, most of it centered on one man. Jacob Wilcox is, of course, no ordinary man. but the unnamed town's "gentle madman," who's "simply unable to bear the ordinary touches of life." Ranting and raving incoherently on his daytime walks through town, the tall and elegant loner sings on his nocturnal jaunts. An object of ridicule for the local boys, Jacob secretly fascinates their mothers, who find him "the one man of liberty and passion among the world." The unstated symbiosis of the madman and those who mock him is threatened by the arrival of his sister, Rachel, who long ago abandoned the place where her family was treated like outsiders and resented for their apparent social superiority. On her sudden return, the tiny town seems "a remote exotic village where the natives were barely civilized." Moreover, this stylish widow with her big-city ways soon becomes the focus of local gossip, and several townsmen--some married--fixate on this attractive woman. Rachel discovers that Jacob's "mild eccentricity" has turned into "concentrated reclusiveness," and she determines to sell the family house and bring Jacob back with her to the city. The townspeople, who tend to speak as one early on, are largely defined by their relation to the enigmatic siblings. But no one acknowledges the curious balance that Jacob provides them all until his presumed death during a thunderstorm sends them into a collective funk. When he reappears, literally thunderstruck into deafness and muteness, everyone comes to their senses. Faith is restored and order returns to River Street; even Rachel finds joy in this previously despised society. Lordan's bold experiment in style--she jumps from person to person, creating a synchronicity of experience--gives the town in this lyrical portrait a voice all its own. A rare achievement diminished only by its occasional obscurities.

Pub Date: June 7th, 1989
ISBN: 06-016094-2
Publisher: HarperCollins
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