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Second-novelist Power (Crawling at Night, 2001) proves resolutely that the South will never rise again.

The Virginia hamlet of Ball’s Bluff is pretty much the last place you’d expect to find a Dickensian Christmas party, and the author’s choice of said party as the climactic moment toward which her story stutter-steps seems arbitrary, though it works well enough. The people testifying in these pages are all connected in some fashion to the hospital (site of the party) and its resident neonatologist/unreconstructed rake, Dr. C.R. Ash. Among them are C.R.’s good friend and fellow doctor Pendleton, his fearful secretary Betty, and teeny-bopper Candy Striper Kirsten, who just gave birth (in the hospital bathroom) to a baby she didn’t know she was carrying. Although they rattle on about their own troubled lives, everyone also seems to have something to say about C.R., generally to his detriment. C.R. himself, the last scion of an old and honored family, is more attached to his bachelorhood than to just about anything; he also drinks bourbon like water and might well have made a mistake that killed one of the babies under his care. The story’s main purpose is to provide a stage upon which C.R. can pontificate, cajole, bemoan and generally chew the scenery to shreds. Much as the other characters try to make their voices heard, the novel belongs to him and on those terms succeeds. He’s a wonderful character. But his overpowering presence also makes every other element seem like window-dressing. Even the Lost Cause, a mandatory subject in any good southern tale, raises its vainglorious, preening head primarily so the author can make a none-too-subtle contrast with the cookie-cutter suburban New South, which provides C.R. with a never-ending number of opportunities to hold forth on the differences between his mother’s real honey ham and the lump of sugar-glazed death sold in modern supermarkets.

Adroitly told, but never quite demonstrates its relevance.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-8021-1720-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2002


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