Kirkus Star


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Yes, a trial is the centerpiece of Ehle's new novel, a murder trail involving drugs, but this is no stale courtroom melodrama: Ehle (The Winter People, Last One Home) has used a kaleidoscopic, oral history format, and 11 different characters, to tell a story of love and justice in the North Carolina mountains (his favorite setting) that is fresh as dew. It's 1981. Winnette King is a 22-year-old factory worker, sweet-tempered, modest, but also passionate and adventurous, always ""poking into experiences."" With one marriage already behind her, she is attracted to an older man on the job, the darkly handsome, reputedly violent Lloyd Plover. Her friend and co-worker, Mavis, warns her against him. She should know: she is Plover's ex-wife, with two children by him. Winnette goes ahead regardless; soon she and Plover are married. Plover both uses and deals drugs; Winnette believes his violence is purely drug-related (a delusion) and that ""love and faith"" will turn him around. When he beats her up, she returns to her parents; two months later, pregnant, she goes back to him, but setting conditions: no more drugs or guns. During the next flare-up, Winnette accidentally shoots Hover dead. Her trial is a sensation. Two cultures are in conflict: the conservative mountain culture, protective of male dominance, and the drug culture; there is irrefutable evidence that Plover was a big-time dealer. Will the jury decide Winnette acted in self-defense? The men want a manslaughter verdict, but a redoubtable and spinsterish English teacher, Miss Rachel Famous Turner, will prevail. There is an echo of Winnette's messy, turbulent marriage in the messy, turbulent jury deliberations--Ehle's novel is full of such overlappings, such disconcerting truths. Add to them a complex, bewitching heroine in Winnette, and a narrative that delivers cliff-hanging suspense while adroitly circumventing clich‚, and you have a work of real power and distinction.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1989
Publisher: Harper & Row