From Publishers Weekly
In Meldrum's intoxicating first adult novel (after 2010's Madapple) a family undertakes West African missionary work only to find its members profoundly transformed. Polish-American pathologist Dick Slepy lives with his bohemian wife, Christina "Seena," in Danish Landing, Mich. They have four daughters, each following the other by two years. There's pretty Mary Grace, now 18. Mary Catherine is "always-obedient" and pious, whereas Mary Tessa is a "trouble-maker-in-training," and the precocious Amaryllis, their youngest at 11, is an "emotional synesthete," who tastes, smells, and otherwise "consumes" the pain, rage, love, or joy of others, and is suspiciously dark-featured. Fearing that his wife is having an affair, Dick seeks the council of his local priest, Father Amadi, who suggests the Slepys take a mission to West Africa to help his nephew, Mawuli, run an aid organization. They go, but the mission is anything but the salve Dick had hoped for, and one event after another—including unplanned pregnancies, accusations of molestation, the discovery of affairs, attempted murder, and Seena being tried in a local court—shove the family into deep crisis. With every chapter, Meldrum jumps viewpoints and shifts time and space (between Michigan and West Africa in the summer and fall of 1976), creating a momentum that masks a lack of imagination. Yet her combination of coming-of-age and culture clash narratives has a seductive intensity. (Mar.)
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By the time the Slepy family relocates from rural Michigan to remote West Africa, due to Dick�s impulsive notion that he should become a medical missionary to atone for his prurient behavior, they were already in disarray. Mother Seena pines for her lover, the family�s biracial priest, while Dick tries to reconcile his hypocritical love for the Virgin Mary with his hedonistic lust for decidedly nonvirginal prostitutes and porn stars. Their four daughters, three named Mary, cope with their neglectful absentee parenting in their own ways. Vain Mary Grace is pregnant, the result of a one-night stand with her loser boyfriend, Rocky. Pious Mary Catherine is in end-stage anorexia. Arrogant Mary Tessa holds everyone in high disdain. Only the youngest, Amaryllis, nicknamed Yllis, sees into everyone�s souls, an ability that brings as much woe as wisdom. Meldrum�s highly anticipated follow-up to the acclaimed Madapple (2010) again delves into issues of identity and faith, with disarming results. --Carol Haggas
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