SAINT HIROSHIMA by Leigh Kennedy


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Kennedy's third book (The Journal of Nicholas the American; Faces)--about the decades-long relationship between a woman pathologically frightened of the bomb and a musical prodigy who goes to seed before finding himself--has an urgent first half, a personal projection of the Cold War, but it peaks too soon, 150 pages before the novel ends. Katie Doheney and Phil Benson grow up in the 50's in a small Colorado town. Katie is terrified of nuclear war, and only after she meets Phil does she occasionally forget ""to put her head down and guard against irradiated snowflakes which were burning holes of slow death into her skin."" Phil, devoted to the piano and to Mr. Tackett, his teacher, finds Katie ""companionable to play for."" Their friendship blossoms into love, but (all too quickly in the narrative) they break up, Phil to pursue his studies elsewhere, and Katie, almost unbelievably, to marry Perry, the town's fire chief. (Phil ""could imagine only one thing that would have let Katie Doheney fall into the clutches of such a beefy prole. He had a bomb shelter."") Indeed: Katie, frightened during the Cuban missile crisis, calls Phil (back home); jealous Perry manages to convince them that WW III has started; and Katie and Phil descend into the bomb shelter for two weeks, where ""the sex came between arguments about what food to open and when."" Once they're rescued (nearly crazy: Katie pregnant, Phil believing in ""nothing""), the story should end, but it winds on for decades and loses its early power. By the close, both Katie and Phil (half a country apart) have found some dignity (Phil after an attempted suicide, Katie as a result of a long marriage), but few readers will care. A pity: a leaner plot and a stronger edit could have made this a novel to reckon with.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1990
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich