by Diane Freund
MacAdam/Cage, 261 pp, $25
Being 12 years old is a country, complete with its own language, fears and villains. All of the last tend to exceed 10 feet. As one grows and matures, one adds layers of knowledge and sophistication which distance us from that former country. Very few accurate memories survive. In Diane Freund's "Four Corners," that is about to change.
Two sisters and a cousin paint a vivid picture of their lives in Upstate New York in the 1950s. Their town is so small that its center has buildings on just three corners, while the fourth remains empty, waiting for some unknown fulfillment.
Hard times have settled down on this family of seven. The mother is in a mental hospital and the father works as a bartender. Aunt Merle comes up from New York City to care for the children and she brings her two teen-agers, the last thing needed in this household, underfunded and oversaturated with children already.
The language is coarse and funny and cannily accurate. When Merle says these children have driven her sister crazy, you find yourself agreeing. She's tough, edging on mean, but one would have to be both, with steel shavings in the bloodstream, to take on this bunch. The meals alone boggle one's mind.
The stars are Rainey and Emily, sisters; and Joan, their Aunt Merle's daughter. These three nymphets (ages 10, 12 and 13), lovely looking, attract a horde of predators, some of whom are downright chilling. All of the children are starved for love, and their mother, when she is at home, exudes it like a scent. The sad part is how rare her times with them are due to her illness. She sees each child as a unique and special person, touching them lovingly, and they stretch and expand as we watch.
When the drama comes to a close and the characters recede in our vision, each trying to work out his or her own tangled destiny, we find we are loathe to see them go. Perhaps the real thrust of "Four Corners" is the way it vividly reminds us of that time when we were young — how frightening life could be, and how we coped with the scariest parts and never told a soul.
"Four Corners" is available at Dockside Bookshop in Havensight Mall on St. Thomas. To check out other Dockside favorites, click here.
FAMILY DYSFUNCTION IS NOT NECESSARILY UNDOING
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