PASSING THROUGH by Leon V. Driskell


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Nine leisurely, wry, overlapping stories about the Waters clan of Owenton, Kentucky--a haphazard extended family full of gaps, hurt feelings, and small acts-of-courage. ""Erline and her sister Lurline always called Mama Pearl 'that woman,' though neither seemed to mind her raising their children."" So elderly Pearl, second wife of a long-dead Waters in-law, has wound up being a mother to Erline's pre-teen daughter Audrey, Lurline's small son Augie, and the husband-deserted sisters' 14-year-old brother Lester--all of whom share the old Waters house, along with Pearl's common-law husband Rosco. Meanwhile, Erline comes and goes, when not tending her failing beauty-shop. . . and Lurline, caught forging a worthless check, is up in the Women's Detention Center at Louisville, ""where to judge from her letters, she was having the time of her life."" Lester, whose parents were killed in a bridge accident, has bad dreams--and toys with the idea of driving the remaining Waters kin off that same bridge (till he catches a glimpse in the rear-view mirror of Audrey's curious, eager face). Augie, kept in the dark about born-again Lurline's impending marriage to a skinny preacher/ gospel-singer, heads for Louisville on his own--neatly surviving a ride with a drunken driver. Erline gets a new beau, ""Francis X. Lighter, the Developer,"" then gets a rude shock when calling his home. (Says Mrs. Lighter: ""Some of the Developer's developments are crying, honey, and I can't talk, but my advice to you is to forget whatever he's trying to develop with you."") But the best stories focus primarily on Mama Pearl herself: in ""That'll Be the Day,"" Uncle Wiley, Pearl's ardent old suitor (and the senior surviving Waters), announces his homecoming from Texas through a series of cheery, eerie postcards that transfix the household; and in the memorable ""The Day that Elvis Presley Died,"" Pearl finds out that Rosco has terminal cancer, but hopes to die herself first--a fate which seems highly possible when Erline, as a nasty practical joke, takes Pearl for a careening ride in the pickup truck. (""When I do not open my eyes, again, ever, I will know I have been spared. I will remain always an old lady sailing down highway 127 into Frankfort on a load of watermelons into the Kentucky River."") There's a bit too much repetition here as Driskell weaves his not-very-shapely stories into a chronological narrative, covering a year or so in Waters-clan history. And a wisp or two of excess sentimentality surfaces. But this is strong, affectionate-yet-hard-headed regional fiction for the most part--funny, gently heart-sick, ultimately upbeat, and keenly observant.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Algonquin (P.O. Box 2225, Chapel Hill, NC 27514)