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Catholic woman chooses homicide over divorce, in a fourth thriller by Sloan (Act of God, 2002, etc.).

In 1955, Valerie O’Connor is a naïve Irish-Catholic girl from a large Vermont household where the punishment, while sometimes corporal, is never unjust, at least in her brainwashed view. Despite her father’s misgivings, she marries Jack Marsh, a Korean War vet with a future in airline mechanics. Jack’s mother died giving birth to him, and his alcoholic father battered a succession of nameless (to Jack) women. Thus Jack won’t want children (though he’ll get them), and women will be interchangeable. The oblivious Valerie suffers through it all. Jack rapes her on their honeymoon, misinterprets her feeble objections, and lashes out each time she announces a pregnancy, twice endangering the fetus. Still, the faith of her fathers won’t permit Val to leave Jack, use birth control, or rat him out over those cracked ribs and life-threatening tumbles. Decades wear on, Jack’s career advances, and his outside women proliferate. The family moves from Seattle to a hamlet south of San Francisco, where Valerie makes friends and gets a waitress job she adores. Jack’s abuse is sporadic, usually due to bourbon-fueled rage at being dumped by yet another mistress turned off by his technique. When his brutishness causes the death of one of his and Valerie’s children, the others plot their escape—and Valerie spends the’70s in a sedative fog, nipping at the bourbon herself. Two sons and a daughter walk the wild side, and another becomes a nun. Youngest son Ricky goes into Witness Protection, leaving Valerie with a grandson to raise—and a second chance. By now, the Marshes are in their 60s, and Val has a successful wedding couture business. Just when some hard-won tranquility settles on their abode, another scourge looms: retirement. The idled Jack returns to bourbon and gets what’s coming to him, about 400 pages too late.

Blistering pace weds us to these stereotyped characters for the duration.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 2004
ISBN: 0-446-53029-8
Page count: 480pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2004


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