ROWING IN EDEN by Elizabeth Evans


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An overly familiar outing from Evans (Carter Clay, 1999; The Blue Hour, 1994) tells of one Frances Jean Wahl, 13 years old—and beset by sexual longing.

Not that anyone in Pynch Lake, Iowa, notices. Her hard-drinking father, Brick, and her careworn mother, Peg, are too preoccupied with Franny’s older sisters, Rosamund and Martie, back from college for the summer of 1965. So Franny drifts aimlessly on the periphery of all these other lives, trying to make sense of them and of her own, pondering the differences between “good girls,” “nice girls,” and just plain “bad girls,” these last represented by her much more worldly sisters, whose pale lipstick and backcombed hair give a hint of the cultural turmoil to come. Daydreaming Franny half-listens to the voices in her head: her mother’s prim nagging, her sisters’ sexual innuendoes, and—incongruously—remembered snippets of Emily Dickinson. Of course, a sensitive girl like Franny loves poetry and writes it, too (fortunately, these ingenuous efforts are not quoted very often). Meanwhile, a crowd of characters, mostly teenagers, while away the endless summer with minor fights, furious necking in convertibles, and miniature golf. Despite her sisters’ escapades with various worthless boyfriends, it’s Franny who commits the revolutionary act of actually falling in love—and with an older boy, at that. After her sexual curiosity is satisfied as well, she’s set upon by a gang of thugs on a lonely road, viciously and inexplicably beaten to within an inch of her life, though indeed the resilient Franny recovers. Evans’s skillfully clear prose is suited well to capturing the nuances of this very small world, but the subject matter is antediluvian, and, if anything, the author has evoked the suffocating tedium of summer in Iowa only too well.

Precisely drawn but an age-old portrait of a dreamy girl on the sudden verge of womanhood.

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 2000
ISBN: 0-06-019550-9
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2000


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