Like planets in orbit, five morality plays circle an emblematic sidewalk inscription.
A sidewalk is being laid at the start of McLaughlin’s novel in five parts, with interludes. After the workman leaves and as the concrete sets, a young girl approaches, stick in hand. Iris carves her father’s and mother’s names in the wet concrete, then her own, then the words â€œPlease, God, bring Dad home safely.” The year is 1918; Dad is in the Argonne Forest, getting gassed, and prayers are not unwelcome. Back on the home front, Iris, her mother and several like-minded women are engaged in the suffrage movement, poking racism in the eye and drawing some wrong conclusions about the boyfriend of one in their company. Each of the five stories in this work will have a strong lunar attraction to the sidewalk inscription, pushing characters toward it, then pulling them away like the tide to get on with their lives. The main characters are all women: One will be young and questing, others will be counselors, old souls and forces of nature. They tender sage advice. Ethel notes that â€œ[f]or most people, hate seems to come more easily than love”; when the mother of a polio sufferer expresses reluctance in her daughter going to college, not wanting to rush into anything, her teacher fires back, â€œBut we don’t want to rush her away from anything either, do we?”; then there’s Aunt Rhoda, who tells her niece that two years of grief over her father is enough: â€œHe’d want ya to give ’im a thought now an’ then, but he’d tell ya to get your herd to Abilene.” The stories are skeletal and unpretentious; to call them parables would be too ornate, but homilies is not far off the mark, though not admonitory. They simply express the timelessness of desires and needs, and the beauty of forgiveness and second chances, mercy and service, backbone and independence of thought, especially against the flow of received opinion.
Stalwart sermon-stories on living right, possessing along the way the delicacy of songbirds.