In this, her first novel since Kinflicks, Lisa Alther gives
us the story - hilarious, serious, and moving - of five children growing up, and apart, in
the South of the fifties, sixties, and seventies.
It's Newland, Tennessee, and The Five - lazing and dreaming in the branches of a weeping beech - are
plotting their futures; the two Price sisters (daughters of the mill owner), the two Tatro brothers
(sons of the foreman), and Donny, the black grandson of the Princes' maid, Ruby.
These kids are a world unto themselves. They are a conspiracy, a cabal, a band of brothers,
forever to be bonded in love and custom as they are now. Theirs is the land of Devout Prayer
Breakfasts and the ubiquitous gospel quartet ("... drop kick me, Jesus, through the goal posts
of life..."), cheerleading clinics, afterschool workshops on float construction and pom-pom making.
Girls make date bars and fudge divinity to raise money for the Plantation Ball. The banner over
the dance floor reads: "Our Southern Way of Life." ...The Yankee Communists are responsible for
such plots as fluoridated water, polio serums, mental hygiene.... The South is their home, their
Eden, the cherished universe of happy children.
We follow these five - the Tatro boys, pledged to wed the Prince girls (so their children will be
double-first cousins), and the black child, Donny, everyone's pet - as the certainties of childhood
meet the complexities of modern life and the extraordinary changes overtaking the South, and as their
paths diverge. We see Sally, the petite girl with "pep." becoming the consummate Southern Girl,
Homecoming Queen, embattled (flirtatious) Virgin (fighting off any creeping sensations of
enjoyment that might interfere with her powers of surveillance), devoted Wife (devouring magazine advice),
local radio Homecraft Celebrity (Turn Your Trash into Treasures)... and her husband, Jed, just as
classically a Southern Boy (star athlete, macho husband, anti-union foreman), sinking into
disillusionment as Sally grows in resilience... his serious brother, Raymond (the restless child stamp
collector), going North, immersing himself in Civil-Rights work... and moody Emily (the brain), venturing
forth to college in New York - each of them rushing into the sixties culture, getting radicalized, politicized,
sexualized, and being enlightened along the way (by Northerners) about Southerners: those rednecks,
hillbillies, and psychopaths. And we follow the only black member of The Five, marrying a woman he
adores, getting mired in his janitor job, escaping North where he's initiated into the pleasures
and traps of city life.
In this large, passional novel, we discover the special nature, the costs and exhilarations, of being a
Southerner in an era of great tumult and change. With all the humor, feeling, and wry wisdom that
made Kinflicks such a popular and critical success, Lisa Alther
charts the universal passage from the idyllic shores of childhood through the unanticipated mazes of
"Alther has hooked us with sheer good writing...a sharp eye for detail...an acute ear...and a delightful talent for confronting human idiocy."
- Susan Isaacs
"Alther triumphantly surpasses her splendid first novel, KINFLICKS, with this rueful, devastatingly clear-eyed look at Southern life....hilarious and heartbreaking by turns."