JOY BABY by Linda Phillips Ashour


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 Fragmented story--marked by a fatal lack of development--of three generations of the Hanks Petroleum family. After dropping 20 characters in the first 15 pages, Ashour (Speaking in Tongues, 1988) bounds around from 1884 to 1991 and from character to character, shredding both story and family. Nelson, an ambitious young Iowa barber, travels to Indian Territory to promote drilling ventures, taking wife Lavinia, a banker's daughter, to live in a tent city. (Potentially the most interesting part of the book, this crude new life is reduced, like everything else, to a few pages.) Nelson finds more than oil, however--he also finds a long relationship with a prostitute named Zoe Simply, as well as with the banking business, taking deposits from outlaws of the day while reading Police Gazette. Son Hubbell becomes a wispy drunk, visiting health spas to dry out and losing his house in a poker game. His wife, Mary, spends most of her time trying to inspire him, fails, and finally leaves. By the time Laydelle (Joy Baby) is born, the family energy has fizzled, and she'll devote her life to failing at what her mother and grandfather excelled at- -promoting. Bits of family history merge with snippets of actual history--peeks at oil booms, hints of deals with the Osage Indians, fleeting appearances by outlaws and presidents and governors. Every time the author seems prepared to deal with an event or time or place, she's off again. Disappointing effort by a talented writer who seems to dislike the novel's form.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-671-68331-4
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1992


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