THE SABBATHDAY RIVER by Jean Hanff Korelitz


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The murder of an unidentified newborn baby prompts a group of women to reexamine their place on the scale ranging from cost-free political commitment on one end to intractable personal lives on the other. Set in the conservative small town of Goddard, New Hampshire, in the late 1980s, the story opens as Naomi Roth discovers a dead infant girl floating in the Sabbathday River near town. Naomi has established Flourish, a profitable cooperative of craftswomen, in the spirit of her 1960s-inspired liberalism. As an avid feminist, socialist, and atheist, then, she is outraged when the investigation into the murder—led by duplicitous state prosecutor Charter’selects Heather Pratt, a young, unconventional single mother, as its main suspect. When Naomi discovers another dead baby girl behind Pratt’s house—this one actually Heather’s—Pratt is charged with a double murder, and Naomi’s astonishment curdles into rage at this patent injustice. Allied with Judith Friedman, an aggressive lawyer and, like Naomi, a transplanted New Yorker, Naomi assembles a defense for Heather that culminates in a suspense-filled trial that destroys Charter’s case. Yet Naomi’s notion of the political nobility of the defense is corrupted as Korelitz (A Jury of Her Peers, 1996) reveals the hidden motives underwriting the action of most of the players. Search not for a virtuous man here: except for the good women’s lovers, the male species is generally freeloading, irresponsible, arrogant, and unreliable. Nonetheless, Korelitz plots so well, and writes her women so persuasively, that the story suffers only slightly from this lack of dimension. An often gripping account onto which Korelitz has grafted some minor themes concerning patriarchal exploitation, the role of faith and God, and the obstacles facing strong, sexually threatening women. If these don—t burden the novel too badly, they do distract from a powerful tale of the tragic enigma of murdered children (First Printing of 100,000; Book-of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Book Club main selection).

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-374-25323-4
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999


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