MAVIS by Brenda K. Marshall


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 With a key family member's imminent death, a history of long- buried abuse, and lightly veiled sisterly resentment, Marshall's spotty debut resonates with echoes of Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres as five sisters must come to terms with a dark secret and a mysterious murder. Mavis Schmidt Holmstead is 60 and living a quiet life on the North Dakota farmland where she and her siblings--Maxine, Janice, Judy, Isabelle, and Irene--grew up and where she made a home with her late, beloved husband Frank. When Irene dies in a horrific car crash caused by her alcoholic husband, Jack Carlson, all of the remaining sisters and their various progeny have more than just cause to want Jack dead. When he's shot point-blank a year later, however, it's not Isabelle, Irene's identical twin, or Jackie, her troubled daughter, who comes forward to confess to murder but Mavis, the stalwart, ever-reliable family anchor and pillar of the community who has been a mother figure to several generations of Schmidts. Mavis is dying of breast cancer, though, and would never live to serve a prison sentence; it seems obvious that she's taking the rap, but for whom? When she summons all of her relatives to the farm for a seemingly ill-timed family reunion, the purpose is really to give herself a chance to say good-bye. As the two detectives searching for Jack's killer (having been unconvinced by Mavis's confession) move closer to the truth, it will be up to the real culprit--a sister with a motive unknown to the rest of the clan--to come clean and publicly absolve Mavis before it's too late. Marshall avoids the trendy incest theme, but too much here still feels staged and unconvincing. Mavis might as well be named Martyr, and since the murderer is revealed in the first few pages, the suspense is practically nonexistent.

Pub Date: June 6th, 1996
ISBN: 0-449-91041-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996