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Twenty Questions: A Novel Hardcover – July 11, 2006

9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This might have been a fairly typical murder mystery were it not for the compelling protagonist at its center: June Duvall, a smalltown woman who works at an elementary school cafeteria. Her life changes when Ronald Pruett is arrested for strangling Vernay Hanks, a local waitress; June had declined a ride from Pruett a day earlier, thus changing her fate (or so she believes). Perhaps out of survivor's guilt, June decides to befriend Vernay's daughter, Cindy, and gruff, laconic brother Harlan, who has reluctantly become Cindy's caretaker. As June slowly becomes more involved in Harlan's and Cindy's lives, the state of her decade-long marriage becomes questionable; when she unravels the true circumstances around Vernay's murder, her life is turned upside-down. Clement's subtle prose renders June's existential pondering and anxious thoughts convincingly, and the novel's intriguing plot elements click. Clement, an elementary school librarian in western Oregon, makes a fine debut. (July)
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–A novel about the twists and turns of deceits, small and large. June, a cafeteria worker in an elementary school, learns that a man from whom she refused a ride has been arrested for the murder of the mother of a student in her school. As she begins to obsess about the fate she seemingly escaped, she visits the dead womans daughter, Cindy Hanks, pretending to be an old family friend. There is a rumor of incest in the family and June, who is childless, considers adopting the girl. Soon she has been given some of the dead womans clothes, but she also discovers a secret that jeopardizes her almost-perfect marriage. Clement is a master of plot surprises as the relationships among June, Cindy, and even Cindys uncle grow more convoluted. When the lies begin to unravel, June becomes aware of the danger in telling even well-intentioned untruths and learns the limits of responsibility. Her moral dilemma will appeal to readers as she attempts to balance her good intentions against the half-truths that she feels she needs to tell. Teens will appreciate the quandaries of an adult world that will soon be theirs.–Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Atria; First Edition edition (July 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743272668
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743272667
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.9 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,999,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alison Clement is the author of Pretty Is As Pretty Does (MacAdam/Cage, 2001) and Twenty Questions (Washington Square Press, 2006). Pretty was both a Barnes and Nobles Discover Great New Writers and BookSense selection. Twenty Questions won an Oregon Book Award for fiction. Her work has appeared in The Sun, The Alaska Quarterly Review, High Country News and Salon. One of her short stories was chosen by Stephen King as a notable in Best American Short Stories 2007. Another was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She has been awarded an Oregon Literary Fellowship and a Joyce Carol Oates Graduate Commencement Award. In 2014, Clement earned an MFA from Oregon State University and now teaches writing at a small, rural community college.


Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jean F. Harmon on December 15, 2007
Format: Paperback
On Sunday, December 2, at the Oregon Book Awards ceremony at the Porland Art Museum, Alison Clement won this year's Ken Kesey Award for the Novel. I was pleased and gratified because "Twenty Questions" is one of the best novels I have read in a long time. I found myself helplessly turning pages, thanks to Clement's skillful development of plot, characterizations, and theme. Clement has a gift for revealing just the right amount of information a little at a time--keeping me reading to find out the answers. Her intriguing characters and their complex relationships made me sorry to finish the book, no longer able to enjoy the company of these folks who had become like good friends. And her adept treatment of "personal and political violence and the connection between the two" imbues the story with an important universal message that carries over into life. Alison Clement's magnificient novel has proved the solution my gift-giving for this year.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By S. Huston on June 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
I loved this book and devoured it. The characters are so well defined, and get under your skin. It's a change of pace to read a story about blue collar people, and those who are living in the trenches.
The plot is dynamite. There are some great twists that I didn't see coming.
My only caveat--in the end the story stays with you, and it was depressing. Maybe that is testament to what a good book this is.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Green on March 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
It is difficult to review this book without giving away too much but... June believes she escaped the clutches of a murderer and is led to learn more about the woman she thinks was murdered in her stead. She finds out more than she wants to know and learns her marriage isn't all its cracked up to be. In the process, she befriends, through a lie, the murdered woman's daughter and brother. When she learns her association with the child is more than the simple fact that Cindy (the dead woman's daughter) attends the elementary school she works at, she begins to unwravel the mystery.

I enjoyed the book, although I didn't appreciate the anti-war sentiments being tossed in for good measure. I didn't think they had anything to do with the story at all and were simply a means of the author making her opinions known.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Book Addict on August 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This has to be one of the best books I've ever read. The book description only scratches the surface of what it's about. It's an incredible story about a woman, June Duvall, and her relationships with other people and how she thinks and how she reacts to things that happen in her life, both directly and indirectly. Alison Clement is an immensely talented writer who has done an amazing job of developing the characters that make them seem so real, like you're getting to know them rather than just reading about them. Her use of dialog between June and the people in her life, combined with both subtle and vivid descriptions of June's thoughts and reactions, make this a book that's hard to put down. I also highly recommend the author's previous book, Pretty Is As Pretty Does. It's a completely different story, but just as enjoyable and well written.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on July 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
When she saw the newspaper, Oregon elementary school cafeteria cook June Duvall knew instantly how fortunate she was. Yesterday her car broke down and Ronald Pruett offered her a ride; she considered accepting it as she hates saying no, but declined anyway. Pruett has been arrested for the strangulation murder of Vernay Hanks, a waitress at Darnay's Hamburgers, who obviously said yes to his ride offer.

Though not sure why she cannot stay out of this tragedy, June, rationalizing it as survivor's guilt, befriends the victim's daughter, ten years old student Cindy, and her newly named guardian, her crotchety Uncle Harlan. Though she loves her spouse Bill as she always thinks of the Nyro-Fifth dimension tune, she finds herself spending more time with the grieving duo. This leads her to wonder what is lacking with her relationship with Bill, but soon a bigger puzzle surfaces when Cindy wears a bracelet that belongs to June's mother-in-law; other evidence surfaces linking Bill with Vernay as June, applying the kids' game TWENTY QUESTIONS, inadvertently begins to disentangle the circumstances that led to the woman's homicide.

Though the anti-war stance seems out of place, this fine drama makes strong cases that justice is myopic when it comes to the unfair treatment of the disenfranchised poor and on a personal scale to be honest with yourself and others in relationships. June is a terrific protagonist struggling with deep feelings of guilt that ignite inside her when she realizes Cindy attends her school. She knows her lies to gain access is wrong though her intentions are honorable. The amateur sleuth elements augment a deep character study of personal and often overlooked societal responsibilities to one another.

Harriet Klausner
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