In McGruder's imaginative but overwritten debut, the complex relationships between lovers and family members, between people and the land around them, link 13 stories of hardship, moral doubt, intergenerational conflict and defiance. In the title novella, narrated in a second-person voice that darts from intimacy to abrasiveness and back, New York stockbroker Amanita Buell survives a double mastectomy only to be fired for her bad attitude. Without missing a beat, she breaks up with her boyfriend, sells her condo and returns to her childhood home in Arkansas, in the shadow of a gigantic statue of Jesus, where she takes a stand against the townspeople, just as her grandfather did. In "The Bereavement of Eugene Wheeler," the question of a convict's right to be buried in a community cemetery causes a rift between Eugene, the funeral director, and his righteous son Scottie, who is dating the convict's daughter. McGruder's memorable-and amusing-narrative of the burial renders the land as much a participant as the protagonists. Several of the stories question humans' treatment of animals; in "Divination," for example, an impoverished father struggles with drought and his trucker daughter's views about cattle farming, while in "Dirty Laundry," a malnourished mother cat and her three small kittens allow two very different and prickly women a moment of tender connection. Though the prose bears marks of a beginner's heavy hand ("I feel cold, in this moment, as I relate the story that springs from the destruction I can cause with my slight indifference," thinks the narrator of "Dirty Laundry"), McGruder proves she can spin a fine yarn. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The most surprising thing about this first published work by McGruder is the vast disparity of voices, characters, images, and locales in its 13 stories. Dense yet understated, the prose swings from the farmland to the city with remarkable ease. "Divination" finds old farmer Gerald struggling in the heat of late summer in the upper Midwest with a drought. The strained relationship with his truck-driver daughter is tersely portrayed as she sets him up with a woman who "witches" for water. The title story is a short novella divided into five parts, in which a lawyer returns to her Native American hometown to try to discover from her grandmother the truth about a family death. Not easy, not mainstream, but worth the effort, this is recommended for literary fiction collections.-Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.