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Smith takes a 20-year spin with a trauma-damaged beauty who drifts through various roles and brief ecstasies in her small Virginia home town--a community-in-transition that's sketched in with gentle humor and some admiration. At twelve Crystal Renee Spangler, daughter of adored, withdrawn alcoholic Daddy and big, blonde mother Lorene, sometimes wishes she lived in another house--the kind with men watching TV after work and brothers tinkering with old cars in the yard. But Daddy tells her fine stories about the old days, so everything's OK. . . until that terrible day when Daddy dies (and something too awful to remember happens with Daddy's retarded brother Devere). It takes a while after that for Crystal to take up her life again. In time, however, thrilled Lorene sees Crystal become the high school's Miss Personality, win the local beauty contest, and pledge to go steady with nice-boy Roger Lee Combs. But also in Crystal's life are Mack Stiltner and skinny Jubal the Evangelist; from one she demands sex, from the other a spiritual vision--from both she's seeking a sense that she's ""real."" And then Crystal leaves college, disappears for a time, lives with a writer who will commit suicide, returns home, assumes the role of elementary-school teacher, and then floats in the wake of old flame Roger--who's now running for Congress and gives up wife and kids to force Crystal to marry him. Finally, however, on a tour of a mental hospital, Crystal at last recaptures that repressed memory (rape by Devere) and will come home for the last time, mute and quietly mad. Admittedly, Crystal's ordeal seems more painstaking, case-history-style, than affecting--a serious problem for reader involvement. But the town and its people are animated by gusts of feeling and empathy: the kitchens crowded with women, home permanents, soap operas and gossip; a hilarious, affectionate view of a high school beauty contest; a revival (featuring the Singing Triplets and a karate demonstration); and the change from work clothes to gold jumpsuits as the town grows prosperous. Overall: so-so main dish, great fixin's.

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1980
Publisher: Putnam