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When Harry Hardin Chambers is sworn in as a justice of his district court in East Texas he quotes Augustus: ""Our futures are more important than ourselves."" There are many such touchstones against which the characters in this low-keyed novel of southern sensibility assess themselves--The Book of Common Prayer, the poetry of the eminent Anglican, Eliot, and from the secular sphere, the opinions of Justices Brandeis and Cardozo; they've also found their way through the Calvinistic thickets which are very much a part of this scene. All of which calls down a heavier burden on this fragile structure than it can afford. The story is one of three generations, from the Twenties to the present, old southern families devoted to the Church and the Law, who see themselves as custodians of the land, not just property, with roles to fill and reponsibilities to meet. Which they do. Mary gives up a lover because of a pact she made with her God (though she advises her granddaughter to seize the day); Julia, Mary's daughter, married the correct man but not the right man for her (she manages, however, to get both, observing all the proprieties of course); and Louisa, the tough-minded libber has to make hard choices but you know she'll really get what she wants. It's all pretty safe and predictable although there are longer lasting moments during the somnolence of summer afternoons conveyed reflectively and measured out judiciously, as indeed the hours of a cloister are measured out. It's one kind of world and it has its validity, within its own special parish.

Pub Date: July 9th, 1976
Publisher: Doubleday