From Publishers Weekly
First timer Harfenist packs a big story into a short coming-of-age fiction peopled by broadly painted, eccentric characters. In 11 linked short stories set between 1959 and 1970, this jolting, highly colored narrative traces the life of Lillian Anderson from eight to 18. She and her sister and two brothers live in a perpetually flooded, rundown house in Acorn Lake, Minn. Their mother, a convincingly portrayed manic-depressive, is always up for wild projects, like turning the family's pontoon boat into a giant-size floating wedding cake; once the fun is over, she sinks into bed for days. Their father, an alcoholic, sits in his recliner drinking beer and eating pickles when he isn't tormenting their mother. Essentially bringing herself up, Lillian sculls through her hardscrabble life, losing her virginity at 14 to a teacher, shoplifting with her best friend, fighting her way to a secretarial job and a small studio in the Twin Cities. Throughout, Harfenist combines pared-down first-person storytelling with terrific character descriptions. Sounds place the reader at each scene and in Lillian's mind, like the noise a city boy makes when he "walks across the crushed gravel driveway in bare feet." The author's direct narrative style, though sometimes abrupt, gives Lillian's story a bright, three-dimensional quality. Readers looking for a fast, entertaining summer read with multidimensional characters will be pleased with this effort.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Die-hard novel readers leery of short stories will not be put off by Harfenist's first collection; these stories follow each other like chapters, leading readers deeper into the confusing world of Lillian Anderson, in 1960s Minnesota. Lillian is having a tough time growing up. Poverty, drugs, and alcohol dominate her family life, and she can't wait to get out and live her own life. We witness not only Lillian's memories of an idyllic childhood of living and playing on Acorn Lake but also the disruptive family life that begins to erode her love of the water. The usual themes for female coming-of-age stories are here, including food and weight issues, sexual yearnings versus sexual taboos, and makeup and clothes, but Harfenist's characters are real and their situations absorbing. Will Lillian's older brother come back from Vietnam? Will Lillian make it to adulthood without getting pregnant, landing in jail, or overdosing? Contrasting with her disruptive family life, Lillian's narrative voice is strong, honest, and straightforward. A solid debut from a talented writer. Michelle KaskeCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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