January 2009

Siblings struggle with loss

By Stephanie Kallos
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Stephanie Kallos' well-received debut novel, 2004's Broken for You, was praised for its engaging cast of eccentric characters. She continues in that same perceptive vein with her second novel, Sing Them Home—a compelling portrait of three adult siblings struggling to come to terms with their father's sudden death from a lightning strike.

Dr. Llwellyn (Welly) Jones had been a widower for 25 years, ever since his wife Hope was sucked up by a tornado in 1978 near their small Nebraska town of Emlyn Springs, never to be found. Upon his own bizarre death, the three Jones children gather for the funeral, setting in motion their intertwining memories of life both before and after their mother's death.

Larken, the oldest, is a single, overweight, food-obsessed art history professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. She is angling for the department chairmanship; her greatest joy is hosting the five-year-old daughter of the mismatched couple upstairs for Friday night sleepovers. Her brother Gaelan is a weatherman—not a meteorologist, to his chagrin—for a local Lincoln television station. Never married, he's a chronic womanizer who has used the sad details of his mother's demise to attract a long line of sexual partners. Their younger sister Bonnie, who as a seven-year-old was tossed around by the same tornado that killed their mother, has strung together a series of odd jobs over the years, most recently at a smoothie stand. She spends most of her spare time searching for relics left by that tornado, still hoping for clues to her mother's fate.

Kallos intersperses chapters written in the voices of these siblings with entries from their mother Hope's diary, the sometimes hopeful, mostly sad chronicle of her long battle with multiple sclerosis. One high point is her steadfast friendship with Alvina (Viney) Cross, her husband's longtime nurse, and eventual lover.

Kallos writes with sympathetic insight into the quirks of each of the survivors, bringing her readers a family saga tinged with mysticism, humor and pathos, and peopled with characters not soon forgotten.

Deborah Donovan writes from La Veta, Colorado.

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Sing Them Home

Sing Them Home

By Stephanie Kallos
Atlantic Monthly
ISBN 9780871139634

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