Memoirist Hornbacher (Wasted, 1988) dilutes the impact of her sensitively told story through overdoses of cuteness and...

THE CENTER OF WINTER

A poignant but soft-centered debut novel about family loss and survival.

In rural Minnesota, Kate (6) and Esau (12) grow up aware of mental illness in their family. Their aunt committed suicide, her history pointing forward to the story’s twin axes. Their father, Arnold, has forsaken work for a life of drinking, and Esau is having “episodes” that deepen to delusional behavior, leading to his incarceration in State, the local mental hospital. Under this pressure, his parents’ originally satisfactory but now strained marriage cracks. At Christmas, after an unhappy visit to Esau, Arnold shoots himself. His widow, Claire, takes Kate and spends a while with her surprisingly supportive in-laws. She isn’t ready to tell Esau of his father’s death, or to enter the room where it happened. But as spring arrives, Esau is strong enough to come home and be told the truth. The narration is shared among Kate, Claire, and Esau, and we learn of the boy’s unusually tolerable time at State: colorful but endearing inmates, kindly staff. At home again, he struggles to be well, aided by preternaturally helpful Kate. Together, the two support Claire, who is relying on drink and her friendship with Donna—the mother of Kate’s best friend—to get through. Claire and Donna discuss weak husbands and failing marriages, subjects Donna understands, being married to Dale, an unhappy Korean War vet who has also taken to drink. One exception to this run of weak, dissolute males is Frank, the local bar-owner, who possesses both a library and a button collection. He and Claire begin to date, causing some anxiety among the children. Donna is also seeing another man, creating greater anxiety in Dale. On the night Claire consummates her relationship with Frank, Dale commits suicide too. But Kate’s epilogue reveals a happier future for her family.

Memoirist Hornbacher (Wasted, 1988) dilutes the impact of her sensitively told story through overdoses of cuteness and foreboding.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-019226-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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