THE SCAPEGOAT by Mary Lee Settle
Kirkus Star

THE SCAPEGOAT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Settle's richly-packed prose, clattering with mythic import, seemed a bit too charged for the cast of neurotic moderns in her National Book Award-winner Blood Tie (1977); however this new probe of the genesis and genius of violence is a perfect meld of broad style and subject. Settle here returns to W. Virginia mining country--in an account of one day in 1912. The strike at the Lacey mine has gone on without violence for a month. But mine-owner Beverley Lacey's plain-thinking wife wants that Gatling gun (""an iron spider"") on their front porch; and company detectives, including Captain Dan Neill (""the black unsmiling shadow""), group around it for a picture. Neill is crazy about Lily, oldest of the three Lacey daughters--a Vassar-educated socialist and idealist who feels immune to the cruelties of caste (because she has willed such distinctions away). Lily has, in fact, set about educating Italian miner Eddie Pagano--but that high-minded project will become part of this summer's day violence. Why violence--since both Lacey and strike-leader Jake are humane men, childhood friends? Well, the mine-owners have been manipulated by the Eastern tycoons, with their even more sinister paper violence (""the black coats and black hats and white collars and gold watch chains""). And the miners (ridge runners or Italians from Dago Hollow) are being whomped into a united front by the legendary Mother Jones, a sweet little-old-lady powder keg of hellfire thunderation forensic and the tactical skill of Napoleon. So, during this one day, the Paganos are set out of their home; there's an organizing square dance, a fire, and a woman's protest prayer meetin' to block frightened, exploited scabs; and the scapegoat, a young cousin of Eddie Pagano's just arrived from Italy, is shot in the back by company goons led by Neill. Why? Because Lily, wrapped up in herself and ""getting to the heart of things,"" tries to join the miners"" wives, is shown no mercy by Mother Jones, and unwittingly leads Neill into thinking she was raped. The narrative clicks rapidly back and forth in time, with ruminations and spiky regional dialogue weighted toward the varying perceptions of both victims and executors of violence, which is ""catching as a disease."" And as for the scapegoat, ""a man does not die because he is a certain person with a name. . . the act is nameless."" Tangled but impressive work--from a writer at her best in big-time thematic territory.

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1980
Publisher: Random House