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 This first novel by Durban (All Set About with Fever Trees, 1985) adds little to the ever-expanding literature of family dysfunction: it's really one long-winded southern whine about ``a make-believe world of appearances, a world of graciousness and beauty and truth.'' No Quentin Compson, Annie Vess simply hates the South. Or, at least, the South of her parents--the Episcopalian upper-middle class with its social connections and privileges. But she mostly just hates her parents, as she discovers after returning home in her early 30s. Herself a young widow, Annie heads back to South Carolina (from Pennsylvania), after her father dies, only to learn that this man of high principle led a life of low deceit. For years, Annie admired her father's doomed mission to prevent the flooding of some scenic lowlands. But while sorting out his papers, she finds that he invested wisely based on information concerning the new-formed lakefront. And it gets worse. The beneficiary of his shrewd dealings is his secretary who, Annie realizes, has long been his mistress. Although she now understands her mother's bitterness, she blames her for maintaining the proper social front throughout the years. Meanwhile, as naive as Annie claims to be, she harbors no little scorn for her cousin Melody, a southern beauty queen engaged to a handsome frat boy turned New South entrepreneur. Melody is, of course, conventional in all the ways Annie refused to be. Is it any wonder then that her perfect marriage quickly sours? Meanwhile, Annie finds true happiness in the arms of one Legree Slack--a calm, considerate regular guy of lower-class, Baptist roots. Holding all the cards in this, her narrative, Annie--a self- righteous, self-absorbed reverse snob--learns to forgive all those around her. Durban seems to have no idea how disagreeable her narrator is, nor any sense of irony about her morbid story. Not a tale of innocence betrayed, then, but of arrogance revealed.

Pub Date: June 17th, 1993
ISBN: 0-684-19258-6
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1993