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 In a disturbing account of three generations, Shearer's debut uses a series of first-person narratives to trace the disintegration of a southern family's happiness. Beginning with the adventurous 16-year-old Harrison Durrance, who shines shoes to stave off the Depression in rural Georgia, the story moves gradually to the present, changing narrators with each chapter, though always referring in one way or another to the life of Harrison. He begins as an engaging all-American boy with red hair and courage, dreaming of exploration and the sky, but as time and narrators change, the assessment of his character shifts, moving from admiration to disdain to pity. From a West Point buddy describing the brash and charismatic young Harrison just before WW II, to his wife relating his brutal punches and drunken rages in their 1950s home, to the laments of his mistress, his sister-in- law's heartbreak for her Vietnam-bound son, to his grown children's account of the aging and broken man, a multilayered portrait of Harrison emerges. The ruin of the man, and the effect it has on each person in his life, begins with his inability to cope after the war. Though still in the Air Force, he's no longer able to fly, taking out his frustration on his wife and three children, who in their later life feel the legacy of his treatment. Daughter Allie, a middle-aged virgin, longs to break the spell of the reclusion that has its source in her father's abuse, and Harrison's son Field, a '60s radical, becomes a disillusioned suburbanite with a troubled marriage. The success of Shearer's novel, uncompromising in its unflinching look at ruined dreams, is made possible by its subtle ability to hold together the disparate pieces, which are akin to a series of self-contained short stories. A confident and daring debut, using the microcosm of this family's fall as an emblem of the American dream gone bad. (Regional author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-43982-X
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1995