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Cementville
     

Cementville

5.0 2
by Paulette Livers
 

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Cementville has a breathtaking set up: 1969. A small Kentucky town, known only for its excellent bourbon and passable cement, direct from the factory that gives the town its name. The favored local sons of Cementville’s most prominent families all joined the National Guard hoping to avoid the draft and the killing fields of Vietnam. They were sent

Overview


Cementville has a breathtaking set up: 1969. A small Kentucky town, known only for its excellent bourbon and passable cement, direct from the factory that gives the town its name. The favored local sons of Cementville’s most prominent families all joined the National Guard hoping to avoid the draft and the killing fields of Vietnam. They were sent to combat anyway, and seven boys were killed in a single, horrific ambush.

The novel opens as the coffins are making their way home, along with one remaining survivor, the now-maimed town quarterback recently rescued from a Vietnamese prison camp. Yet the return of the bodies sets off something inside of the town itself —a sense of violence, a political reality, a gnawing unease with the future — and soon, new bodies start turning up around town, pushing the families of Cementville into further alienation and grief.
Presented as the Our Town of its time, we’ll meet Maureen, the young sister of a recently returned solider who attempts to document the strange changes going on in her town; Harlan O’Brien, a war hero just rescued from three years in a POW camp whose PTSD starts bending his mind in terrifying ways; Evelyn Slidell, the wealthy icon and oldest woman in town, a descendent of the its founders and no stranger to what grief does to a family; Giang Smith, the ‘war bride’ who flees the violence of Vietnam with her new American husband only to encounter echoes of it in her new home; and the notorious Ferguson clan, led by the violent Levon and his draft-dodging younger brother Byard, who carry a secret that could further tear the town apart.

With the Civil Rights Act only a few years old, a restless citizenry divided over the war, and the Women’s Movement sending tremors through established assumptions about family life, Cementville provides a microcosm of a society shedding the old order and learning how to live with grief — a situation with resonant echoes concerning war and community still being confronted today.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
11/25/2013
In Livers’s debut, it’s 1969, and seven young men from the most well-respected families of Cementville, Ky., are coming home from Vietnam in body bags. Also returning home is still-breathing Lt. Harlan O’Brien, the town’s former football star. O’Brien and the other seven all joined the National Guard in the hopes of avoiding real conflict, but war found them anyway. Long, lyrical chapters explore the wounds wrought on those left bereft, but Livers ups the ante by putting a killer on the loose in the small town. And with townsfolk already on edge, mutual respect and tradition are replaced by fear and suspicion. Livers uses each chapter to explore a different facet of war and its aftermath. At times, sorting out the different families and individuals can be confusing; the most distinctive characters include Wanda, an agoraphobic librarian, for whom the tragedy provides an incentive to reconnect with town and family, and Maureen, a teenager whose chronicling of events offers a sort of naïve insight. But most of all, the novel comes off as an atmospheric piece, a portrait of a traditional town on the brink of much change, whether welcomed or not. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

"With nods to not only Dickens but Nathaniel Hawthorne and Shirley Jackson too, Livers asserts the novel’s far-reaching intentions via her deployment of ornate, high-powered language. The thought-provoking debut wears its literary aspirations like a velvet funeral gown, calling attention to the grim legacies of combat and the changing realities of small-town U.S.A. As another bloody American entanglement staggers to a close, Cementville makes it clear that the consequences of warfare reverberate much further than on battlefields, for civilians as well as soldiers." —Atlanta Journal Constitution

“1969 is often remembered as the summer of love, of Abbey Road and the flight to the moon. This book is about the realities of that time and by extension the realities we still live with. Unflinching and clear, and beautifully written, Cementville manages to be what good books always are: a window into the true world, exhilarating and inspiring even as it faces into the dark.” —Richard Bausch

"Cementville gave me everything I want in a novel. The place and time period come alive on the page, the characters are as real as all the people I know best, and I'm still thinking about them and their stories even though I finished the book several days ago. This is just simply a beautiful novel, and it could only be written by someone with a very large heart. I'll be recommending it to everyone. Paulette Livers has made me feel that special thrill that I've never gotten from anything but great fiction." —Steve Yarbrough, The Realm of Last Chances

“Paulette Livers is the real thing -a blazing talent with a fierce intelligence and a big heart, big enough to encompass a horrible tragedy and the inner life of an entire community. She has written a brilliant and deeply compassionate study of grief, violence, loneliness, and love. And her language sings. This is a stunning debut —a perfect novel with deep implications for our own time.” —Lee Smith, Guests on Earth

Cementville is a tremendous debut novel. How Paulette Livers is able to maintain her light touch while taking on the era of the Vietnam War —with its seismic worldwide effects— is nothing short of genius. With its beautiful, wounded characters, its startling insights into their private hearts, and frequent flashes of humor, this book is one of the best novels I've read in a long while.” —Christine Sneed, Little Known Facts

“Paulette Livers paints a compelling portrait of a small Kentucky town, with its tragedies, pleasures, and crimes, with its fallen heroes, its agoraphobics, and its young lovers. Her prose crackles as it traces the uneasy lives of the folks of Cementville.” —Bonnie Jo Campbell, bestselling author of Once Upon a River

“What is central and valuable is the depiction of a specific and near-forgotten way of life. Through her strongly drawn characters, Livers depicts a community drawing on its traditional strengths—kindness, respect, and practicality—to support each other through the very new challenges presented by war, trauma, and suspicion. This novel will be enjoyed by fans of Marilynne Robinson and of lyrical novels that depict the awesome inner struggles and resources of seemingly everyday people.” —Booklist

“Long, lyrical chapters explore the wounds wrought on those left bereft…Livers uses each chapter to explore a different facet of war and its aftermath.” —Publishers Weekly

“The arrival of dead soldiers from Vietnam in 1969 upturns and rewires the lives in a small Kentucky town. An earnest and sober portrait of the homefront.” —Kirkus

“[a] gently paced evocation of a nearly forgotten time and place.” —Elle

“..Cementville could be any American town in 1969. The novel is a moving representation of the nation’s psychological state in that time of turmoil.” ——Real Simple

Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-09
The arrival of dead soldiers from Vietnam in 1969 upturns and rewires the lives in a small Kentucky town. As Livers' debut novel opens, the reputation of Cementville (pop. 1,003) has shifted from its namesake cement factory to something much more visceral: The arrival of the bodies of seven National Guardsmen who were killed in a firefight. The tragedy has sent the town into public displays of mourning, though as Livers shifts the story's perspective among a host of residents, more complicated emotions emerge. For Maria Louise, a young journalist who skipped town for the city years before, it means a return home and sudden romance with a member of the low-class Ferguson clan. For 13-year-old Maureen, it's a revelation about her family's capacity for secrets. For Harlan, a POW who lost a leg overseas, it means a hero's welcome that's been overshadowed by a week's worth of funerals. For Evelyn, the elderly head of the town's wealthiest clan, it's an opportunity to sourly recall years of Cementville shortcomings. (Though the novel turns on an act of benevolence on her part.) And so on, and so on: The chief flaw of the book is that's it's stuffed full of characters who are hard to differentiate, consistently possessed as they are of Livers' eloquent if down-home voice. The episodic, character-sketch arrangement undercuts the central drama of the novel, involving the murder of the Vietnamese wife of another war vet. Livers means to explore the ways that perception and reality often fail to overlap in small-town life, and there are moments where the novel sings in that regard, particularly in one section where the supposed bad girl of the Ferguson clan finds a refuge in the home of an elderly resident. But the overall tone is curiously muted. An earnest and sober portrait of the homefront, filled a bit past capacity.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781619022430
Publisher:
Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
03/11/2014
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

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Read an Excerpt


We feel them coming, the low vibration of their wheels, a dark convoy descending upon us, pitching north like a swarm that might have been lobbed from the fist of a spiteful deity. The military cortege moves toward us up the new toll road from Fort Campbell. Each black hearse with a small flag fluttering from its antenna, each containing a flag-draped coffin. See him, up front, the driver of the lead hearse? He no doubt finds the wide, flat road boring and wonders momentarily whether he needs to keep his eyes open at all, the thing is so damn straight.

We have wondered the same thing—some of us have tried it out, closing our eyes and keeping the wheel steady, the gas pedal down, our tires singing as we plunge headlong down that smooth perfect surface. The lead hearse driver, let’s call him Corporal So-and-So, stares ahead at this unswerving trail of asphalt and hears the smoky voice of his great aunt, quoter of verse: Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be who go in there. He glances in the rearview at the long shiny box behind him. He did not know the kid in the box, not being from around here. One of the other drivers told him about the bad luck of the boys from Cementville.

Meet the Author


Paulette Livers is a Kentucky transplant to Chicago via Atlanta and Boulder, where she recently completed the MFA at the University of Colorado. Her work has appeared in The Southwest Review, The Dos Passos Review, Spring Gun Press, and elsewhere, and can be heard at the audio-journal Bound Off. Livers was awarded the 2012 Meyerson Prize for Fiction (for material from Cementville), and received Honorable Mention for the Red Hen Press Short Story Award (also for material from Cementville). This is her first novel.

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Cementville 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
DS0 More than 1 year ago
A thoughtful story of one small town in the south and how it faced a time of great upheaval and unrest. I was moved and compelled by the premise - the bodies of fallen soldiers being returned home to their families - but what kept me reading were the fascinating characters. Each chapter we meet and re-meet various members of the town, of the central families of Cementville - and its exciting to see how they all fit together. The plot holds genuine twists and shocks --not every character makes it out of the story alive - and for me this novel offered the perfect reading experience. HIGHLY Recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This multi-voiced story of a small Southern town reeling from war loss is a deeply compelling study of the ripple effects of faraway conflicts. Three-dimensional characters, a lush setting, and lyrical prose pulled me through the complex plot. Highly recommended by this finicky and critical reader!