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In her first novel, Freeman displays the same quiet intelligence and emotional honesty that distinguished her story collection (Family Attractions, 1987). And she manages to sustain both over the course of a fiction that asks us to believe in the redemptive power of trust and generosity. But there's nothing naive or starry-eyed about this memoir of a ""sanctifying woman,"" partly because she doesn't fully realize just how good and strong a person she is. At the start of her journey west from her native Utah, Verna Fields considers herself, in fact, a major failure. Her husband of 17 years has left her for a floozy named Pinky; she no longer believes in the Mormon faith that defined her entire life before marriage; and she's decided to drive to L.A., where her prospects for employment and friendship are slim. Verna never renounces her Mormon past--and Freeman seamlessly blends in the details of the religion's unusual practices--but she's tired of all the hypocrisy as well as the limitations of life in small-town Willard, where she grew up with seven siblings who were all made to share in the family's economic struggles. Now 34, Verna finds herself in a rough neighborhood in L.A., where she works as a receptionist. Her only human contact at first is with her nonagenarian aunt and uncle, and with a non-Mormon friend she hasn't seen since childhood who's grown into a sophisticated artist. Eventually, Verna reunites with the widow of her brother Carl (who died from cancer at an early age). Mexican and Catholic, his vivacious wife, Inez, baffled her simple in-laws, but developed a special bond with young Verna. Now, almost 20 years later, she convinces Verna to drive her to Mexico, hoping to escape her violent marriage. With disaster always impending, and Verna certain that her life is out of control, ""flickering hope"" manages to shine brightly. And when it does, the good things that happen seem both necessary and ordained. Freeman's extraordinarily sympathetic imagination extends across an unusual range of characters--all of whom she brings lo life with a remarkable narrative authority.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1989
Publisher: Norton