Vermont Woman Review November 2009

This isn’t a new review, although it was new to me. I only found out about it a month ago. I have only included part of Amy Lilly’s review. If you want to see the whole thing go to: Vermont Woman article

Novel Gift Choices That Won’t Be Returned to Sender
By Amy Lilly

Fiction lovers planning on gifting copies of Lorrie Moore’s or Hilary Mantel’s latest for the holidays would do well to look closer to home: Vermont boasts a slew of talented women novelists. Here are five new works of fiction that appeared in 2009, all by experienced authors. Delve into the world of dairy farming or small-town Vermont life; plow through a suspense novel or linger over a family saga. There’s something for everyone.

According to Kit
by Eugenie Doyle
Front Street, 2009
215 pp.

by Jennifer McMahon
Harper, 2009
423 pp.

Ordinary Magic
by Ruth Porter
Bar Nothing Books, 2009
451 pp.

Return to Sender
by Julia Alvarez
Knopf Books for Children, 2009
336 pp.

Two Rivers
by T. Greenwood
Kensington Books, 2009
373 pp.

Dedicated DIYer Ruth Porter of Adamant just self-published her second novel, Ordinary Magic. She and her husband created their own publishing company, Bar Nothing Books, to ensure that her debut novel, The Simple Life, met her artistic specifications. The new one has a similarly quiet beauty: Porter’s own photographs, of icicled eaves and snowy work horses, form a silent introduction to the novel and grace each chapter page, and the paper stock is luxurious. The whole effect renders the Kindle and its kin irrelevant.

Ordinary Magic is an extended-family saga set in 1977. George and his older brother Cal grew up on the family farm, but George left for the nearby, suggestively named town of Severance to become a lawyer while Cal stayed on. Cal is now a gruff old Vermonter who can smell snow coming and peppers his comments with such colloquialisms as “goin downstreet” – meaning, leaving the farm to go anywhere. When he gets shot through the foot during deer-hunting season, the semi-estranged brothers and their families reconnect in ways as various and tangled as the dark tree branches in the painting Porter chose for her cover.

What aids that process is that George and his wife Laurie’s younger daughter Nora has suddenly come home from her single life in Boston without explanation. Nora is in fact trying to keep her pregnancy a secret, and she finds solace in escaping regularly to Uncle Cal’s. But everyone else seems to have private struggles, too: George is an alcoholic in denial; Nora’s sister Lena juggles two small children and an aloof husband who’s been sleeping with “a friend”; Cal and his wife Ursela’s son Conrad wants to make it on his own as a logger but finds himself becoming mired in debt.

Such a summary makes the book sound depressing, but nothing could be further from the truth. Porter’s meticulous descriptions of the emotional fluctuations behind family members’ conversations, sentence by sentence, make for absorbing character studies with a ring of truth. Sometimes the detail overwhelms the forward drive of the story – there is something to be said for that intermediary in traditional publishing, the ruthless editor – but Ordinary Magic ends up creating a world unto itself that seems as familiar as the one downstreet.

Vermont Woman Associate Editor Amy Lilly lives in Burlington.

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