A SONG I KNEW BY HEART by Bret Lott

A SONG I KNEW BY HEART

KIRKUS REVIEW

An elderly widow loses a son but gains a daughter as she returns to her roots and allows an old wound to heal.

Naomi, the widow, narrates. She is a child of the South, from a poor family in a coastal town near Charleston, South Carolina. In 1946, she marries her childhood sweetheart Eli; their old-world courtship has a simple dignity that eludes Lott (The Hunt Club, 1998, etc.) elsewhere. Both are devout Baptists, and the Christian ethic permeates Naomi’s life. The next year, the two move to Massachusetts, where Eli starts a plumbing business with his best friend, Lonny. Then the young marrieds get some really bad news: They won’t be able to have children. Uncharacteristically, Eli fails to comfort his wife, whereupon Naomi turns to Lonny and initiates joyless sex with him, a single lapse that will torment her throughout their 50-year marriage. Lonny confesses to Eli that same day, yet husband and wife, always deeply loving, never talk it through, a story aspect that’s barely credible. Eventually, the couple do make a baby. Their son Mahlon grows up to wed Ruth, both of them also devout Christians. Then, after 22 years of a childless marriage, Mahlon dies in a car accident. Naomi and Ruth, now both widows, form a bond so close that when Naomi decides to return to the South, abandoning the wonderful friends in her quilting bee, Ruth goes with her. “Where you go, I will go,” she declares biblically. Back home, Naomi rejoices in that special light filtered through the pines, but even more in the true light of loving kin—her stepbrother and wife and their children and grandchildren. All illustrate God’s “tender mercies,” his cornucopia of gifts and blessings that offset life’s tragedies. Naomi’s pain from her long-ago adultery dissolves in the familial warmth, yet the goodhearted rituals are not only painfully cloying but can’t mask the lack of a storyline.

Repetitious, slow-moving, endlessly sentimental.

Pub Date: April 20th, 2004
ISBN: 0-375-50377-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2004




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