Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Thirty years (from the 1960s to the '90s) in the life of a working-class family living in rural Vermont are traced in this quiet second novel by Alberts. Here, as in her Michener Award-winning first novel, Tempting Fate, a coming-of-age tale set in 1970s Alaska, Alberts is at her best when evoking place. For better or worse, the Chartrain family of Shelby, Vt., is bound to the local landonce farmland but now a grim landscape of trailer homes and ramshackle houses whose yards and driveways are cluttered with junk. Burdened by an abusive father and a sickly mother (who is ultimately diagnosed with cancer), the Chartrain children struggle all their lives merely to get by. Mitchell, the eldest, turns to drug-dealing to support his own family. Donna, an adventurous, intelligent adolescent, finds love with a farmboy. Nancy, the youngest daughter, stays home to take care of her alcoholic father after her mother dies. And Marsha, who yearns for a better life, marries a staunchly lower-class alcoholic like her father. Alberts rotates the stories of these characters (and of others, like Jamie, a steelworker cousin of the Chartrains) as she takes them through the years. This approach, while inventive, disrupts the narrative flow, since some stories are evoked in depth, while others are remarkably slim. Clean prose and empathetic characters, however, compensate for the lax pace and loose structure, rewarding patient readers with a richly observed tale of suffering and survival. (Oct.)
This account of a troubled family from the author of Goodnight Silky Sullivan (Univ. of Missouri Pr., 1995) will stun readers. Once upon a time, an almost stereotypical Vermont couple lived fairly happily on a farm. The land was their own, the buildings were kept in repair, the maples produced enough revenue each year, and the couple was blessed with two daughters. The daughters did not fare so well, however. Anne, for instance, ends up presiding over as cursed a crew as the Jeeter family of Tobacco Road. Husband Lowell is an abusive drunk and loser; the oldest child is killed in an auto accident; and, of the three youngest girls, one has an affair and a nervous breakdown, another repeats her mother's mistake and marries an abusive drunk, and the last bears a child with a deadly disease. As with most of us, life goes on, we grow, we change, we survive, and so does this family. This beautifully written book is not easy to read, but it is riveting. Highly recommended, especially if your readers are fans of Joyce Carol Oates.Dawn L. Anderson, North Richland Hills P.L., Tex.
Plowing through years of accumulated resentments and frustrations within a Vermont family, second-novelist Alberts (Tempting Fate, 1987) touches every grim aspect of backwoods New England reality as the offspring of a damaged marriage grow up in the shadow of their mistreatment as children.
The Chartrains are in pitiful shape in the early '70s: Mom has cancer and sleeps all the time, Dad has a drinking problem and can't hold a job, and they live with their five kids in a half- finished house on land given them by her father. Dad has a heavy hand with the children as well, especially with his only son, Mitchell, who runs away to Maine as soon as he can, then joins the service. Eventually, he comes home, surviving on a series of short- term, undemanding jobs. Of Mitchell's sisters, daredevil Donna gets pregnant at 14 and has an abortion; Nancy, the youngest, barely escapes being sexually abused by Dad when Mom finally dies; Sally goes to live in Virginia but then returns, marries and divorces an abusive husband, and raises her two girls alone; Marsha, the oldest and most responsible, dies young, in an Easter accident caused by her drunken husband. Mitchell, meanwhile, has married and fathered three and begins making money in the '80s by dealing cocaine, but he gives it up when he finds himself addicted and increasingly abusive to his kids, like his father before him. He makes a fresh start with his family on the Maine coast, where he hosts a gathering with his sisters in an attempt to bring closure to their painful, discordant pasts.
Drink, drugs, abuse, death, and redemptionit's all here, neatly packaged in a single generation of a hardscrabble family: The details are convincing enough, but unlike the novels of Carolyn Chute, the larger picture lacks the strength and breadth to transcend the commonplaces of a straightforward family chronicle.