MAYBELLEEN by Kathleen Wallace King


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 King's second novel (after The True Life Story of Isobel Roundtree, 1994) is a tight, hortatory tale about justice denied (to Native Americans) and the redemptive power of love. A tall order, not quite fulfilled, in spite of some interesting perceptions. The story this time deals with two world-weary women six decades apart: one, a frontier outlaw hanged in 1902; the other, her great-niece, also headed for hanging. In 1958, New Yorker Margaret has, she says, ``gone off her rocker.'' When her husband leaves her, she returns to ancestral Kentucky and discovers the grave of her (briefly famous) great-aunt, the hanged outlaw, Maybelleen MacGregor. Margaret, still sufficiently far from her rocker and enamored of Maybelleen's fate, also tries to hang herself. But she's rescued just in time and cared for by relatives. The story then switches back to 1899 as Maybelleen, a Kentucky schoolteacher, escapes her cushioned despair by marrying a handsome preacher, Dr. Brown, who's come to the ladies' circle to plead for help for the poor Indians. Once in the Oklahoma Territory, though, Maybelleen discovers that the Indians have been robbed not only of their land but of their culture. Prevented from giving real help as a teacher, Maybelleen just rides off, a shrieking Dr. Brown following. She then falls for Bill--a half-Mexican and half ``all- tribes''--who robs to collect money for a ``gathering place'' for Mexico's Indian tribes. The end comes just after the last heist and before the border. Later, Maybelleen tells the sheriff simply: ``I only wanted love and I got it.'' As for Margaret, she also finds love and ponders the link (with a surprise kink) with Maybelleen: ``We carry nations inside us.'' King's language is fresh and strong, but her way of relying on a mythic frame rather than a character results in a novel that hovers a bit too high off the ground. Still, King has an Oatesian intensity worth the flight.

Pub Date: April 13th, 1995
ISBN: 0-8050-3600-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1995