Picks and Pans Review: In the Fall

updated 07/10/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/10/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Jeffrey Lent

Wounded in the final grim days of the Civil War, Vermont farm boy Norman Pelham marries the runaway slave who nurses him back to health—setting into motion a tragic, passion-filled drama that will reverberate through three generations. A richly observed epic, Lent's first novel tackles big questions—the limits of love, the cost of secrets, the pain and rage that are slavery's enduring toll—while spinning a gripping tale that is part good old-fashioned whodunit. (The mysterious horror from her past that blights former slave Leah's life, and the lives of her descendants, is not fully revealed until six pages from the end.) The language used by Lent's characters is pared down and humorless—Clint Eastwood-speak, New England-style—and the dialogue grows tedious. But that's only a minor imperfection in an otherwise deeply affecting novel. (Atlantic Monthly, $25)

Bottom Line: Luminous literary debut

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