This debut literary novel is set in 1969, in a small Kentucky town that produces cement and whiskey. A funeral cortege brings home seven dead Cementville soldiers, all members of the National Guard whose families had expected them to remain safe from the conflict in Vietnam, and one surviving, maimed hero. An eighth dead soldier is not part of the cortege; severed from the others by religious denomination and class divisions, his family must mourn him separately. Around these deaths form a number of stories reaching back into family histories and well-kept secrets of love, hatred and violence.
With a large cast of characters united variously by ties of kinship and community, this is a novel that rewards the reader who can keep its diverse threads straight in her mind. Beautifully written and sensitively executed, it weaves the Vietnam era deftly into the family stories and touches on the civil rights issues that still arouse strong feelings in Cementville’s population.
The novel’s even tone and its understated ending may not satisfy readers looking for the sense of completion a rounded-out story brings, but it should certainly gratify those who enjoy good prose and a complex interweaving of past and present. A promising debut.