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Moses, who detailed the fence-hopping muddle of a Kansas murder in One Smart Kid (1982), again sets a remembered murder in Kansas farm country--but this is a much grimmer tale, its central violent impact muted by opaque characters and an overload of talky meditation. Martin Troyer, 50, caresses failure as if tonguing a sore tooth. A professor of English at the U. of Kansas, Martin is on sabbatical, losing his office to a flaky young substitute; he has rebuffed his loving wife, artist Barbara; his law-student son Paul is distant and abrasive. And then Martin's widowed mother Ellen, who has lived these many years in chilly isolation on the crumbling family farm, makes a deathbed confession to Martin and Barbara--about a Depression-era stranger, a knife, and a covered-up killing. (Her last words are from Deuteronomy: ""The Lord has smitten me with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart."") So, for over a year after Ellen's death, Martin will brood on the past; childhood scenes return again and again; there are memories of rebellious older brother Paul (who'll die in the war), of Ellen--always in black, bludgeoned and bludgeoning with God's punishment. Furthermore, as Martin's depression and obsession deepen, he suspects Barbara of infidelity and must fight off Paul's greed for Ellen's farm--where Paul's frail girlfriend Lisa reawakens Martin's sexual desire. Finally, however, he will lay old ghosts to rest--and will feel that, indeed, as the Bible says, ""joy cometh in the morning."" Martin's funk-and-rebirth is less than convincing; the other characters, too, are overdrawn--especially the saint-like Barbara. But, if often clumsy or muddled, this hard-working novel does have a vital, haunting core that may hold some readers--in the notion of a long-ago murder's long, devouring legacy.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1984
Publisher: Macmillan