Author:Helen Stine

Publisher:Cardinal Press



With early introductions to characters named Nannie, Mama, Daddy, and Daduh, the readers of Helen Stine’s debut novel understand very quickly that they are deeply in Norman Rockwell country, or more precisely, the Lowcountry of South Carolina in the 1960s.

The narrator of this first-person, past tense, memoir/novel is pre-teen Genevieve, whose rather pretentious given name is quickly converted to Genny. The good news is that Genny paints her Norman Rockwells beautifully and with an astonishing blend of childhood innocence and adult narrative sophistication. Indeed, the blend is so masterful that the reader rarely is aware that this child is telling her story in language which is most untypical of her age group.

Genny’s story is told in a languid loop, starting with a critical dramatic event and later picking it up for furthering it along. In the meantime, a plentiful population of friends and family are described with varying degrees of intensity and the author more or less leaves it up to the reader to assess which are important to the progression of the novel’s central story.

Readers who lived in these years will relish the author’s vivid recollection and delightful recounting of the times. One can only feel sorry for those who don’t remember the ancient struggle between the relative merits of Oreo and Hydrox cookies.

It’s also worth noting that even the pre-publication ARC I reviewed was immaculately edited.

The relationships among Genny, her family members, and her school friends are told with great literary skill. Imaginative imagery and evocative metaphors and similes inhabit almost every page.

Although the plot is occasionally peppered with accounts of childhood brutality and of violent adult misconduct, these episodes tend to come and go as the more placid account of rural life moves on, somehow smoothing it all out. I’m not at all sure this is a virtue. I was also less than enthralled by the relationship between Genny and her verifiably dead Nannie.

At the end, I felt myself consistently entertained, but only intermittently abducted, by the author’s true stories.