SALT DANCERS by Ursula Hegi


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A disappointing successor to Hegi's panoramic PEN/Faulkner nominee, Stones from the River (1994), revisiting that overworked world of troubled childhoods recalled years later by still-obsessed adults. When Julia Ives, a successful, single, 41-year-old architect, finds out she is pregnant, she decides to go home to Spokane, a place she left 23 years ago. ""I was afraid I'd mess up my child's life if I didn't sort out before her birth why things had gone so terribly wrong with my family,"" she says, then proceeds to alternate accounts of her present visit with memories of the past in an attempt to do just that. When Julia was four, her father taught her ""the salt dance""--a ""dance"" in which you leave everything you fear or no longer want behind a line of salt. Later, Julia has plenty to leave behind: Her father begins to drink, her mother stays out late, quarrels and domestic violence erupt. When her mother suddenly disappears (runs off, in fact, with another man), Dad tries hard to be a good parent, but soon begins drinking again and even beats Julia. At 18, then, determined to start life anew, she moves East and later marries Andreas, an Austrian ski instructor. The marriage ends when she refuses to have children, but later there's ""an absurd yearning for a baby""; when Coop, her current lover, makes her pregnant, she decides to go ahead. Now, as Julia accompanies her father to the family's lakeside cottage and visits with her brother Travis, friends, and relatives, old ghosts are laid to rest. The planned confrontation with Dad is disappointing, but a long-sought meeting with her mother provides some healing insights, as well as memories of ""the good father whose memory I had killed in order to survive."" Ready now to be a mother and a daughter, Julia can return home. Stale, schematic, and overwrought.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0684844826
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster