THE QUEEN OF OCTOBER by Shelley Fraser Mickle


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Mickle's first novel--about coming-of-age in Arkansas among quaint southern types--nearly drowns in local color, but an engaging narrative voice gives it artificial respiration. Sally Maulden, 13, is sent to Coldwater, Arkansas, to stay with her grandparents while her parents go about getting a divorce. Sally, precocious, relates the story of the Big Bust-up, along with the ensuing saga of friend Sam Best, with lots of vividness and family history thrown in. (At the Rexall Drug Store, ""Mrs. Barber. . .had just had her hair petaled into sausage-shaped ringlets, and when she got close the curling chemicals made her smell like a cat box."") Sam Best, though married, proposes to Sally's mother. (His wife Ellen and daughter Julie have left him.) She politely fends him off before leaving town whereupon Sally falls in love with Sam: ""Being in love was--if you really thought about it--a lot like dying."" She and Sam drive endlessly over his inherited land, Sally full of marriage fantasies about the older man, but the young girl finally gets to know BJ--a dancer and Sam's ""other"" woman who (for Sam's benefit) makes herself up to look like Sally's mother. Inevitably, Sally's dream-world falls apart: BJ decides to marry and leave town, whereupon Sam, on New Year's Eve at the Silver Moon, goes on a binge (booze and, later, morning-glory seeds). Between episodes of a tiresome comic subplot--which involves an outhouse and her grandfather's illegal patent, ""Inside Medicine""--Sally discovers the truth when Sam returns rejuvenated (and with his wife) from a dry-out: Sam's love for her is ""fatherly."" Sally, coming-of-age, accepts all this ""thinking of how much--in one way or another--could be passed on. Including love."" Her mother arrives and off the two of them go. Fade-out. A sweet, promising debut, as pleasant (and, by turns, as predictable and irritating) as late-evening front-porch taletelling.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Algonquin