Where da party at? Well friends, if you think four ne’er-do well brothers, a cranky controlling mother, a fortune lost, a house which burns down, a husband who commits suicide, and a dead child is fun – then the party is at ‘In The Hope of Rising Again’.
Far be it for me to poke too many holes in this 2004 novel, because it was Helen Scully’s first published effort, but damn…the bright spots are few and far between. The story takes place primarily during the first third of the last century. The main character, Regina, is the fifth child and only daughter to a Civil War hero and his decade and a half younger wife. Although her mother is named Regina, Regina’s mother suspects that her husband named their daughter ‘Regina’ after his first wife, who was also named Regina. This results in a distancing between mother and daughter and wife and husband.
On the bright side, I do think Scully demonstrates some fine writing in spots.
“Stupidly he patted her head, which she jerked out from under his long thin fingers. Over her shoulder she could see Isabel and Anna through the window, sitting side by side on a log in the driveway, arguing earnestly in the afternoon light, their childhood foreheads already creased. Murmurs of thunder rolled across the silence. “I love you, “ she said, but the words, tinged with a nag, were deflected by his adopted resistance to her pitches. “I love you,” she repeated solemnly. It sounded the same as other things she said. Now she heard herself speak in the voice of a pitiful child. “Do you love me?”
I also observed that Scully had a nice way of defining a character’s melancholy, the problem with ‘In Hope’ though, was that there was way too much melancholy. It was not as if all the tragedy was not believable, I could believe it. We are talking about the American south (Mobile, Alabama to be exact) surviving through the Great Depression. Mother Riant, as Regina’s mother is called, has codified her four sons to the point that they are egocentric buffoons whose only talent seems to lie in their prodigious letter writing, of which they follow a well-mannered procedure. By the time Mother Riant realizes her mistakes as a mother, it is too late and the only way to show her displeasure is to tell her sons they are worthless and throw chicken bones at them during Sunday supper (which I personally thought was a creative touch on Scully’s part).
There were some things that I found hard to buy knowing what little I know about the American south during this time-period. For instance, I think it a bit far fetched that Regina’s parents would approve of a romance between herself and a man of Chinese descent. Yet, I would have been willing to overlook that if the story worked better.
Part of problem was that there was never any real emotional payoff. Sure, the Mother Riant stuff was amusing, but then her children simply wheeled her back into her room and forgot about her. The tension between Regina and her brothers never feels fully done. They squander the family fortune and then try to nickel and dime her out of the property she has inherited…and she allows them. It felt very much like Scarlett O’Hara’s mother running Tara. In fact, it would not be hard to imagine any of Regina’s brothers growing into a Mr. O’Hara.
Overall, I think Scully’s talents are worth a sophomore effort, but I can’t recommend ‘In the Hope of Rising Again’. There just isn’t enough Prozac in the world.
© 2007 Westerfield