Picks and Pans Review: Kate Vaiden

updated 08/04/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/04/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Reynolds Price

For those who like their Southern novels ripe with old-fashioned gothic violence, romance and overblown prose, dependable Reynolds Price should satisfy them again with his 14th book. The woman of the title is orphaned when her parents are luridly removed by murder and suicide. Her mother's sister, a saintly woman if ever there was one, takes 11-year-old Kate into her home in Macon, N.C., a tobacco-growing community. As a teenager, Kate has an interesting circle of admirers, including the richest man in the county, who may be a homosexual. In high school she falls in love with a boy two years her senior. They take to sex on a mossy bank like a spoon to soup. (After reading a few pages of Price it is impossible to write without falling into his disturbing habit of overdecorating sentences—"deaf as a biscuit," "peaceful as a fern," "black as a hot night," "slow as cold, used oil." When they are appropriate, they are nice bits of filigree—little wisteria blooms of pretty images. When they strain, they stop a reader cold. The young man joins the Marines, gets himself killed and Kate moves on to the next big event in her life: She runs away and lives with her cousin in Virginia until his boyfriend gets her pregnant. The saving graces of this novel are the author's sly humor and the indomitable character of the heroine. No matter how tragic her situation, she never thinks of herself as a victim. Those who have enjoyed Price's past work will be grateful that a new one—even with its predictably melodramatic revelation at the end—has arrived. (Atheneum, $16.95)

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