KENTUCKIANA by Johnny Payne

KENTUCKIANA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A creaky metafictional take by Payne (Chalk Lake, not reviewed) on a newly suburban ""red neck"" family coping with the 1960s and '70s that is never as clever as it would like to be. There's a story within a story here. A businessman with literary susceptibilities--""built-in shelves groaning with Fielding and Tolstoy""--invents the troubled Miles family and plunks them down in a subdivision he's building in Lexington, Kentucky, as a way to liven up a report on his labors. The Miles are meant to take on a life of their own, and, apparently, to illustrate what happens when former hillbillies try valiantly to adjust to the modern world. In fact, the family does little more than serve as a vehicle for their creator's literary hipness. They certainly never have it easy--even when father Jean is working. Before their creator had moved them into a house in Garden Springs, they'd lived in a trailer, the five children shared a bed, and Constance, the mother, had spent time in the state mental hospital. Things don't much improve when they move up: Jean's an alcoholic and can't hold jobs; eldest daughter Judy almost kills herself with drugs; Talia attempts suicide after an abortion and has to be hospitalized; Elaine experiments with drugs and sex; and Lynnette is preternaturally vague. The only son, Stephen, eventually does well, despite battles with addiction. Time doesn't heal much here, though Constance and Jean do find a certain peace, limited only by their continuing responsibilities for their children--especially Talia, who keeps making bad choices in men. But when their creator decides to sell his company, which includes rights to their story, his son, Junior, in love with Elaine, decides he must somehow buy it to save her from falling into the hands of someone who might simply delete the family from future reports. Dated riffs on old themes with equally dated lit-stylish flourishes. More sitcom than cutting-edge satire.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
Page count: 255pp
Publisher: TriQuarterly/Northwestern Univ.