Email this review


Less strident and more sentimental than her earlier books (Union Street, Blow Your House Down). Barker's third is the carefully researched, tightly constructed story of two lonely people--a poorly educated, cranky old woman about to be evicted from her house and a 29-year-old gay social-worker estranged from his blue-collar family--and how they connect. Liza Jarrett Wright, born into poverty and neglect in 1900, has spent her life scraping by; now she is ending her life in the shabby house where she has raised two children and a grandchild; but before she dies, the still-irrepressible Liza wants to put the past in order. Assisting her in sorting out 86 years of memories is Steven, a social worker whose job it is to persuade her to move out before the wrecking ball hits but who stays to become a friend. Liza's vivid, rich recounting of her impoverished girlhood, unhappy marriage and struggle for survival makes up the body of the book, and her stories--both historically accurate and quite moving--are especially affecting when she describes Louise, her mother, who bore 19 children, and Frank, her husband, whose obsession with sÉances and faith healing grew out of his traumatic experiences in WW I. Listening to Liza's unsparing account of the difficulties of working-class life from 1900 on, Steven--her ""spiritual son""--is revived brought back from the alienation he's felt from his own working-class parents, threatening his job and his relationship with Gerald, his lover. Steven's chapters are plodding, and, all in all, he's a less convincing, real character than Liza; but, still, this hard-nosed, compassionate novel is mostly absorbing entertainment.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 1986
Publisher: Putnam