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The success of Kit Reed's most ambitious novel tiered for several generations will probably be prorated in direct measure to the susceptibility of the reader on the basis of the considerable emotional torsion it exerts. If one stops (unlikely) and thinks (also unlikely) one might question the accumulation of slow despair which overwhelms every single character, none of whom manages to escape the idolatrous illusions of Lily, a Southern belle, of who they are and what they should have been. Lily when first seen rustles in ivory peau de sole or ails in velvet peignoirs, but always presents the tableau of her clutch of children as ""handsome, combed, graceful ornaments to society."" Papa is used and used up trying to maintain them all and the large house and the servants; Lily finds them slipping away, one by one, until her mind also forfeits reality; and as for the children, they appear in alternating first persons, hurrying the narrative along: Flo who had mean eyes; Cora who was defiant and gay for a time; Lila who was beautiful and lasted only a little longer than her worldly marriage; Nell who was serviceable; Edward who was the weakest long before his avid, common wife and his hernia; and Thad who was the only one to realize that Lily was like ""an anchor or a cross"" and had to get away, on down to two generations of unhappier daughters who wonder what all this had to do with them. . . . After it's all over, you might even question whether this is very close to life or literature but still there's no mistaking the welts of reproach and failure, of guttering hope and loneliness, which are raised on every page.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1971
Publisher: Dutton