Friday, November 15, 2013

The Violet Hour

Readers who know me well will understand why I was drawn to this title and book cover. So what a joy it was to discover that there's much more to love than a color and a feeling. It's the maturity of Katherine Hill's debut novel about a family in free fall.

It came at an especially opportune time as I had just struggled through another novel in which the author, who shall remain nameless at this time, had created a family brimming with stereotypes and lacking any authenticity.

The Violet Hour, on the other hand, is a sophisticated novel about a twenty-year marriage that has suffered from an erosion of trust brought on by one partner's need  for affirmation through sexual dalliances. Only two, Cassandra will tell her husband. They have nothing to do with her love for him which always seems to be a little deeper when faced with losing him. She apologizes. She's an artist. She has heightened sensibilities.

And Abe? He just swims away. Literally. On an afternoon of sailing in the San Francisco Bay, Abe's passion and Cassandra's idea of a living hell, Abe leaves their teenage daughter Elizabeth at the helm after a loud, vile, violent shouting match with his wife over her latest transgression, and dives into the Pacific.

Once this effective prologue gets your undivided attention the following three hundred pages fly by as Ms. Hill unveils the back story, how Abe and Cassandra met, the complications of their individual childhoods, his as an orphan raised by his grandmother, hers as the oldest child to Howard and Eunice Fabricant, who prepare bodies for burial in the basement of their Bethesda home.

Abe and Cassandra have ostensibly moved on since his defection. Elizabeth is now a medical student studying back east. Cassandra's art has earned her a comfortable living  and Abe does his best to be an absentee father. Howard Fabricant's 80th birthday celebration is the reason that the entire family descends upon the funeral home, a perfect place for Ms. Hill to unload her boatload of talent, as the disparate brothers, sisters, boyfriends, exes and neighbors gather for the portentous occasion.

Though brought up in this funeral home, Cassandra has an uneasy relationship with death, a fact that will manifest itself in an amazing scene toward the end of this extremely satisfying novel, in which Cassandra will be asked to grow up, step up, and put her artistic skills to work on a corpse.

It's such fun to watch a debut talent at work. Katherine Hill has written a novel  full of humor, insight and wisdom. The jacket photo shows me a very young woman but the words are those of an old soul with an intuitive knowledge of our human faults and foibles. A lovely read indeed.

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