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Six generations of illegitimacy, incest, greed, and feuding--in an Oklahoma family-saga that's initially engaging, sporadically vivid and earthy, but finally too sprawling, convoluted, and unappealing. In present-day Tulsa, department-store owner Elizabeth Murphy--middle-aged, unmarried, a tartly effective narrator--deals with current crises while digging into the past: she recalls her dead father Lee, her mysteriously disappeared mother, and her grandfather Levi. Meanwhile, however, two alternating narratives fill in--often confusingly--the Murphy family-history. One strand follows the life of founding-father Obediah Murphy, born a bastard in 1819 Virginia: lusty young farmhand Obie marries older widow Laesae but is constantly unfaithful (""I ill outlast dose randy vays,"" avers Laesae, a steely Pennsylvania-Dutchwoman); to escape scandals, the family migrates West; incorrigible Obie impregnates his bovine stepdaughter ""Laesae Two,"" sees Civil War action (and atrocities) along with his stepsons; and in the postwar years Obie's lustings continue, with the ""Old Bastard"" killed at 83 by a jealous rival. The other strand of narration is the 1903-38 testimony of Levi Murphy, bastard son (father unknown) of madwoman ""Laesae Three,"" Obie's quasi-incestuous daughter; learning the secrets of his ancestry, young Levi vows celibacy and marries the pregnant girlfriend of his chum Daniel Cloud (""I would found a line of true bastards, all bearing the name Murphy but none the tainted Murphy blood""); but in later years Levi is seduced by ""son"" Lee's scheming wife--and, worst of all, he learns that Lee does indeed carry Murphy blood. . . because Daniel was yet another of Obie's bastard children! Does all this dark background tie in with the 1980s doings of Lee's (or Levi's) daughter Elizabeth? Well, not really--though first-novelist Haring tries hard to link the family-history themes to Elizabeth's vague, happenstance involvement in a sad local murder case. So, while Hating displays a gritty talent here and there for the underside of pioneer domestic-life (old Laesae is a fine creation), this is finally an over-ambitious, unfocused gnarl of family-trees--with some potentially zesty material lost amid the thickets.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1984
Publisher: Evans