COUSINS by Paulette Jiles


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A no-nonsense midlife rites-of-passage chronicle by an acclaimed poet who finds love and long-lost kin as she seeks to understand her own past. Jiles, an American who went to Canada with her draft-avoiding lover in the 60's and stayed on to teach in the Arctic and write poetry, returns to Missouri in the late 1980's to bury her mother. There, at a horse-trading jamboree in the Ozark hills, she meets Jim Johnson, a Texan and retired colonel, a man ""full of experiences I've never had as well as information and data and books on military history I've never read."" Attracted to each other, the two are nevertheless wary of commitment: Johnson, unhappy in a second marriage, still mourns his beloved first wife; Jiles, who has lived the life of a freedom-loving literary bohemian, is reluctant to settle down. They have serious political differences as well--Jim fought in Vietnam, Jiles was against the war. Curious about her Missouri cousins and the role of her father and grandfather in their lives, Jiles uses her questions about her family as a way for the two to get better acquainted. With an advance from her publisher, she and Johnson travel in a trailer around the South, catching up with family and history and finding true love as well. And love, Jiles learns, turns out to be just as good for older and perhaps wiser lovers. The family stories, however revealing of clan legends and loyalties, are secondary to the evolving love story, told with disarming candor and good humor. A heartwarming but refreshingly unsentimental account.

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 1992
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Knopf