A COUNTRY OF STRANGERS by Susan Richards Shreve

A COUNTRY OF STRANGERS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

With some of the same ingredients she used to good effect in Queen of Hearts (1986)--a mysterious disappearance, an unwed mother, and fierce love that leads to murder--Shreve has put together a smaller-scoped and more convincing novel here: a sweet, sad portrait of two families, one white, one black, living side by side in Virginia during WW II. The place is Elm Grove Farm, recently purchased by Charley Fletcher, a journalist assigned to work for the government. What Charley hopes is that the farm, in its splendid isolation, will ease the strain of jealousy that has invaded his love for his wife Lara, a beautiful Danish actress. The former owner of Elm Grove, John Spencer, vanished unaccountably seven years earlier, but the black servants--Moses Bellows and his family--have stayed on. In fact, big, brooding Moses, his wife Miracle, his brother Guy, and Guy's wife Aida have moved from their own smaller houses into the main house where they have been living in comfort--until the Fletchers' arrival. Shreve spins an exquisite web of tensions between the two families--from Charley's naive notions of fraternity to Moses' deep attraction to Lara and the wonderful, blunt dealings between Lara's 13-year-old daughter, Kate, and Miracle's 13-year-old pregnant niece, Prudential. Still, there are some practical problems with the storyline. It's never quite clear, for instance, how a young journalist has the means to buy and run a place like Elm Grove. And it doesn't seem quite possible, after a final showdown that involves gunfire and blacks in the year 1943, that there are no legal consequences. But, for the most part, the lyrical power of Shreve's writing pushes aside any practical concerns. This is a novel where dreams are sometimes more vivid than real life and old mysteries are better left unsolved. It's both appealing and haunting, like John Spencer's ghost.

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 1988
Publisher: Simon & Schuster