Fractured when the mother is whirled away in a tornado, a Midwestern family is finally restored in this engaging if drawn-out saga from Kallos (Broken for You, 2004).
Like Larken Jones, one of its central characters, the novel is enormous and unrepentant. It hinges on the disappearance and presumed death of Hope Jones in 1978, leaving her three children (Larken, Gaelan and Bonnie) to be brought up by their father Llwellyn in the Welsh-derived community of Emlyn Springs, Neb. As the novel opens decades later, Llwellyn is killed by a lightning strike while playing golf, forcing the siblings, each damaged in his or her own way by the loss of their mother, to reassemble. Larken, a professor of art history, defends herself with food and her love for Esmé, a neighbor’s child; TV weatherman Gaelan prefers casual sex and bodybuilding; eccentric, virginal Bonnie collects random items of trash. Kallos employs extracts from Hope’s diaries and the perspectives of various characters, including Llwellyn’s long-term mistress Viney, to expose with wit, whimsy and inexhaustible detail the secrets of the past and developments of the present. The narrative eventually reaches semi-predictable resolutions to the problems of all: Larken and Esmé (and Esmé’s father) become a family; Bonnie has the child she craves with Blind Tom the piano tuner; and Gaelan is reunited with his first love. Useful, grounding glimpses of a darker world of betrayal and anguish in a censorious, narrow-minded community are easily crowded out by the emphasis on quirk and charm.
Intelligence and spirit sustain this epic, but sentimentality wins the day.