IN A HIGH PLACE by Joanne Meschery


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The ""high place"" of the title is the town of Tullease, in the California Sierras; it's where Lily, newly divorced, has come to make it alone with her three children. And a ""high place"" of over-confidence is where Lily begins this story: she takes the kids, plus neighbor-child Hugh, on a late-autumn mountain hike; Hugh becomes lost; and he's not again to be found (until spring--and the novel's end--when he reappears dead yet frozen perfect). The terribleness of this accident, of course, has you all repared for a hard, rough book; and, in fact, Lily does become life-threateningly ill immediately after Hugh's disappearance. But then the mood changes with startling suddenness. Hugh's mother Charlotte bears Lily no hatred. Lily's tall, 50-ish neighbor Deegan--a gallant fellow with bad teeth who'll become Lily's love interest and the book's real hero--comes by to nurse Lily, to haul her kids back from their father in San Francisco. And a general community solidarity abruptly pitches the novel into comedy. True, this lurch is slightly stomach-dropping at first: readers will hardly be ready for the fast shifts from quiet to painful to madcap. But Meschery has a true feel for equableness--the pearl of family tragicomedy. And soon one is fully won over by her honestly funny characters; by her nature-writing, which is lovely without striving for cosmic oneness; by her acknowledgement of the dignity of a small town's sentimentality; and by her fine sense for small wonders. Moreover, Meschery comes up with a big final scene--Deegan's springtime recovery of Hugh's body--which is worthy of a vintage Frank Capra movie in its full-bodied sad/comic warmth. The talent here is expansive and multiply-veined, hard at first to get itself under control. But once that happens, it runs on an exuberant, extravagant, and very frequently touching track. An important first novel.

Pub Date: Nov. 13th, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster