Date-rape and murder color the life of a high-school sophomore. Years later, she returns to her hometown to exorcise the demons, in a first novel based on delayed revelations.
Sophomore Arlene Fleet made a deal with God. She would stop being a slut, never lie or fornicate again, and leave town for good after graduation. All He had to do was hide the body of the boy she’d killed. True to her word, Arlene left tiny Possett, Ala., in 1987 and hightailed it to Chicago, for Jim Beverly had indeed vanished without a trace. Ten years later, Arlene is still in Chicago, a teacher and a Ph.D. candidate with a steady boyfriend, Burr. Then Jim’s old girlfriend, Rose Mae Lolley, materializes on Arlene’s doorstep, and Arlene realizes she must return to Alabama for damage control. In chapters that from this point on alternate between the present and the past, Arlene is an engaging narrator whom we want to trust, though that can be difficult. Take the murder. Jim, the heartthrob quarterback, had behaved horribly to Clarice, Arlene’s lovely cousin (the girls are as close as sisters). Arlene had pursued the sloppy-drunk Jim and knocked him out with his tequila bottle. Had one blow really killed him? Why wasn’t his body ever found? Why has it taken ten years for Rosa Mae to get on the case? There are questions in the present, too. Because of her “no fornication” pledge to God, Arlene’s two-year relationship with Burr has been touchy-feely but not sexual. Just how credible is that? Arlene and Burr drive down to Alabama to visit with Arlene’s formidable Aunt Florence, who raised her after her father died and her mother sank into a permanent, pill-popping depression. The homecoming is frosty, for Burr is black and Florence is a dyed-in-the-wool racist. But racial tensions take a back seat to a minute reconstruction of the past and a final Southern Gothic flourish.
A likable new talent chained to a creaky old plot.