From the Publisher
"Deeply literate, darkly funny."
"Kentuckiana is a grand lowlife epic, a touching, sometimes hilarious and oddly delicious wallow."
San Diego Union-Tribune
"This fanciful, sometimes hilarious portrait of working-class life in Kentucky is witty, ironic, and completely engaging. Kentuckiana deserves to be read." Review of Contemporary Fiction
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The travails of the deeply troubled but endearing Miles familyJean and Constance and their children, Judy, Stephen, Elaine, Talia and Lynnetteare played out against the backdrop of early-1970s suburban Lexington, Ky., in this darkly funny, moving second novel from the author of Chalk Lake. Both generations recount their brushes with divorce, addiction and domestic violence through a series of chapter-long monologues. These begin with precocious, 15-year-old Talia's hospital-bed tale of her rape, abortion, suicide attempt and continuing suicidal urgesa rant filled with resilience, fierce intelligence and macabre wit. Her flighty big sister Judy uses the various men in her life to tell her story: at 19, she escapes from her lover, a Charles Manson wannabe, only to marry an abusive heroin addict, all the while craving her father's love and approval. Stephen, the guilt-ridden intellectual of the clan, is obsessed with protecting his rebellious sisters and preserving, in words, his family's historyquite a challenge when each of them hovers on the brink of self-destruction. And Jean, the alcoholic though well-intentioned patriarch, provides the last monologue, in which he describes how he's haunted by his redneck past. Payne takes a great risk when he introduces the fictional "author" of the Miles family saga (who also happens to be the planner of their housing development), a painfully self-aware narrator who mocks his own anxiety before the overcrowded, imposing Southern literary tradition: How (he worries) can a modern-day suburb stand up to Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County? This metafictional game is perhaps too clever, but it should not distract readers from Payne's greater achievement: the remarkable Mileses themselves. (Oct.)
A grand lowlife epic, a touching, sometimes hilarious and oddly delicious wallow. Metafictional slumming, if there is such a thing. (Well, there is now.) -- Arthur Salm, The San Diego Union-Tribune
A creaky metafictional take by Payne (Chalk Lake, not reviewed) on a newly suburban "red neck" family coping with the 1960s and '70s that is never as clever as it would like to be.
There's a story within a story here. A businessman with literary susceptibilities"built-in shelves groaning with Fielding and Tolstoy"invents the troubled Miles family and plunks them down in a subdivision he's building in Lexington, Kentucky, as a way to liven up a report on his labors. The Miles are meant to take on a life of their own, and, apparently, to illustrate what happens when former hillbillies try valiantly to adjust to the modern world. In fact, the family does little more than serve as a vehicle for their creator's literary hipness. They certainly never have it easyeven when father Jean is working. Before their creator had moved them into a house in Garden Springs, they'd lived in a trailer, the five children shared a bed, and Constance, the mother, had spent time in the state mental hospital. Things don't much improve when they move up: Jean's an alcoholic and can't hold jobs; eldest daughter Judy almost kills herself with drugs; Talia attempts suicide after an abortion and has to be hospitalized; Elaine experiments with drugs and sex; and Lynnette is preternaturally vague. The only son, Stephen, eventually does well, despite battles with addiction. Time doesn't heal much here, though Constance and Jean do find a certain peace, limited only by their continuing responsibilities for their childrenespecially Talia, who keeps making bad choices in men. But when their creator decides to sell his company, which includes rights to their story, his son, Junior, in love with Elaine, decides he must somehow buy it to save her from falling into the hands of someone who might simply delete the family from future reports.
Dated riffs on old themes with equally dated lit-stylish flourishes. More sitcom than cutting-edge satire.