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Irene Perrin, North Carolina matriarch, dies; her children assemble. There's easygoing, reasonable Harlan, who arrives with his wife and his grown son--the narrator. And there are the far less even-tempered female Perrin offspring: Helen and Junior (both fat, now husbandless, rapacious for spoils)--and Sully, a faded and suicidal beauty who's often been committed. Helen and Junior try as best as possible to gyp Sully out of what little (a brooch) is due her; anything of value that comes Sully's way, it's true, is soon converted into liquor money anyway. They also seek to deprive the Perrins' black servant Tiny (loyal but with a mind of her own) of the house that all the others know should be hers outright. . . as a gift for long service. Pretty serious business, then, is undertaken in the two days surrounding the funeral, verging on the baddest of bloods--and first-novelist Davis handles it with fair and apt equilibrium. Sully is now and then too much the Blanche DuBois stereotype, pining for yesteryear's shining hours; and the rancor of the sisters is a little one-dimensional. But a careful ear and an unfettering lack of sentiment balance things out on the plus side. So, despite the overall thinness--and the ghosts of far too many similar novels always hovering overhead--a modestly talented debut.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Scribners