LAST ONE HOME by John Ehle
Kirkus Star

LAST ONE HOME

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Ehle's most comfortable venue, the mountain regions of western North Carolina, is shifted down into town, Asheville, for this capacious, highly engaging and wise, somewhat feckless family chronicle. Farm-boy Pinkney ""Pink"" Wright, with new wife Amanda King, finds more interest trading along turn-of-the-century Asheville's Lexington Avenue than he does working ploughs and cows. That he is good at trading is beyond question: he quickly makes money and sets down roots in the growing city; there's a house in town, the arrival of children--Fredrick, Hallie, Young (Pink Jr.); ultimately Pink branches off into selling insurance to mountain whites and town blacks during the early Twenties. And, in parallel with Pink's rapidly increasing fortunes, there are the rising fortunes of Asheville itself--its expansion into a tourist town and local business center. (Thomas Wolfe makes a brief hometown-boy appearance; there's an amusing section wherein Pink's eldest son Fredrick is commissioned by a local magnate to write a romance novel set in Asheville that will double as an ad for local businesses, using real names and pitches.) Still, though the novel is everywhere solidly and often stunningly written (the dialogue, with unexpected richness of texture, is especially distinguished), it spends a long time shopping for a central plot. Finally it settles on one: Pink's mini-empire, Monarch Insurance, is threatened when Pink suffers serious strokes--with destructive financial maneuverings that tear badly at the family fabric; in an Oedipal choosing-up of sides, loving Amanda asserts her independence by pushing eldest (and weakest) son Fredrick as the business' successor--while incapacitated Pink opts instead for strong daughter Hallie; and the late estrangement between husband and wife is vivid, a quick and sudden abyss, effectively upsetting. True, this plot takes hold too late: there's an overall impression of wandering, with superfluous forays now and then into Wolfean lyricism. But, if not quite on the level of Ehle's very finest regional fiction (e.g., The Winter People), this generous novel is full of his deep knowledge of human nature, his splendid feel for time and place, his strong, quiet integrity.

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 1984
ISBN: 0982441681
Publisher: Harper & Row