What We Set In Motion by Stephanie Austin Edwards

What We Set In Motion

A Novel
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A South Carolina woman dreams of moving to New York City in this debut novel.

Edwards’ (Some Favors, 2011) story introduces readers to the heroine, Nadine Carter Barnwell, born to a good family in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, where all is not well. Her autocratic father, Sam, has become even more so since Nadine’s mother died. Close to college graduation, Nadine is determined to head to New York and fulfill her dream of becoming a successful modern dancer. This is bad enough in Sam’s practical view, but she plans to arrive there with her boyfriend, Frank Prescott, an aspiring actor. Thankfully, Nadine’s Aunt Amelia, a wise earth-mother type, runs interference and counsels Nadine to follow her heart. Then Frank gets a small movie role, his big break, and leaves, promising to return. Meanwhile, Nadine has become pregnant with Frank’s child, but the baby is stillborn and only Nadine, Aunt Amelia, and Uncle Hamp know of this chapter in her life. Nadine finally moves to New York, accompanied by her dancer friend Deni Hansen. Babes in the woods, they escape many unsavory and even dangerous characters but eventually life improves. One of Nadine’s guides is Father Benjamin Vincent Dunlap, a paraplegic gay priest—she is never without wise counsel. She winds up in the world of the theater and meets, and marries, Colin Bennett, a successful director. They have a loft in SoHo. Life is good. Then comes a letter that threatens to smash their comfortable existence to smithereens. There follows an audacious plot resolution, but the reader should be spellbound as it unfolds. Then the expected denouement wraps things up nicely, or almost. Edwards writes superbly and the plot moves briskly. The narrative offers evocative descriptions of both the historic Lowcountry (“From the marsh, an egret fluttered its wings in slow motion and lifted into the air. The smaller birds, smartly tucked in the shade of the palmettos, called out to whoever listened”) and glamorous New York (“Sometimes the city just popped out of the darkness like a 3-D movie. From this vantage point, Manhattan looked like a fairyland, the place Dorothy and her friends were searching for”). And there are juicy subplots, such as Deni’s fall and redemption. What starts out as chick lit turns delightfully surprising.

A bit heavy on wish fulfillment, this vivid novel is still a satisfying read.

Publisher: Self
Program: Kirkus Indie
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