Mavis by Brenda K. Marshall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Those of you who read my reviews know that I do not give 5 stars lightly. This novel, however, richly deserves them. Before I get into my review, just let me ponder aloud how unlikely it was that I even picked up this book. I found it on a bargain rack at some book store years ago, and it sat on my shelf for ages before I chose to read it. No one at Goodreads.com has even reviewed it, though its publication date is 1996. And yet how beautiful and engaging it turned out to be.
The title character, Mavis, is the eldest of six sisters raised on a farm in North Dakota. As the story begins, the sisters have all reached middle age, and half of them have moved away, but a shocking event brings all of them back home. Six months after their sister Irene dies in a fiery car crash caused by her vicious lout of a drunken husband, someone empties a shotgun into his face on a country road.
Mavis, the strong, no-nonsense, dependable, honest backbone of the family, confesses to the murder, even though no one, not even the investigators, believe she really pulled the trigger. So who did? What is going on here? Well, what is going on in this novel is, surprisingly, much less about a murder mystery than it is about the land, and this family, and the way all of that is tied together forever.
There is an age gap between Mavis and Maxine, the two oldest sisters, and the younger four. Maxine is a college professor in another state, Judy devotes herself to trying to preserve her looks and find ever-younger boyfriends, Janice is the quiet sister who works 9 to 5 locally, and Irene and Isabelle are the youngest, and twins. Isabelle lives in California, with her lesbian partner of nine years. She has never brought Linda home to North Dakota, but now she does. I hadn't realized there would be any gay storyline in this novel at all so I was stoked to find two of my tribe as characters.
Someone said, about Russian author Ivan Turgenev, that each of his stories is like a month in the country. After reading "Mavis", I felt I'd spent a long rewarding time in North Dakota (!) with characters who were real, and human, and whose problems mattered to me. Despite their differences, in age, in circumstance, in sexuality, and even in how they remembered their childhoods, these women all shared something vital, and unbreakable, that I loved being able to be part of as I read this book. Highly recommended.
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