DEAD CENTER by Joanna Higgins


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Higgins (A Soldier’s Book, 1998, etc.) takes a fictional look at a real-life case and the effect it has on one family.

Karen and Ben live the perfect life: He is a pediatrician who has moved his practice to sun-kissed Hawaii with his second wife and the mother of three daughters, two from Karen’s ill-fated first marriage and one between them. But the two have a dark secret that is about to be played out in front of a jury in a small Michigan town, and that story will have a devastating effect on the entire family. This evocative tale opens with Ben’s arrest and quick removal from his home in Hawaii to the small town where he and Karen’s first husband, Pete, once went together to shoot skeet. But Pete ended up dead and Ben claimed it was all an accident. Pete’s parents couldn’t let go and they pushed until the case was reopened and Ben was arrested and charged with their son’s murder. Pete’s two daughters, Laura and Lin, now grown, show up for the trial and, in listening to their adopted father’s shifting versions of how their birth father died, they start questioning everything their lives have meant up until this point. Higgins’ tale is gracefully unwound, but so much of her story does not ring true that it’s distracting: There is no extradition hearing, their mother is provided an airline ticket to tag along with her indicted husband, Laura hits a grown deer and suffocates it with a plastic bag and some minor characters are brought into play for reasons that are never made clear. Higgins’ style, which is littered with sentence fragments, makes for some wearisome, albeit skillful, storytelling. In the long run, the story of the splintering and reuniting of a family in crisis redeems the author’s earlier silliness.

Readers may find the machine-gun staccato of nonstop sentence fragments and improbabilities distracting, but Higgins’ otherwise lovely writing will keep them reading to find out how this tale of love gone wrong ends.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-57962-212-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Permanent Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2010


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