Picks and Pans Review: The Summer of Ordinary Ways

updated 11/07/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/07/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Nicole Lea Helget

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Don't be fooled by the title—this book is anything but ordinary. From the beginning, when the author's father kills a cow with a pitchfork, to the end, where violence and frustration threaten to overwhelm her parents and their six daughters, Helget's debut combines jolting events with haunting descriptions of everyday life on a farm. Each chapter contains a stark memory: At the Sunday service the local Catholic priest shows his congregation slides of aborted fetuses saying, "It's a child, not a choice"; a drunken uncle accidentally runs over his 4-year-old daughter with a tractor; the author's mother yells at her husband to drown or shoot the new litter of puppies that are "ugly" and "always underfoot." Helget doesn't demonize her family, nor does she overplay the drama, which seems as commonplace to her childhood as tossing a baseball with her dad, taking communion or flirting with the milkman. Despite everything, she finds humor in the cracks and shows compassion for the people who raised her. In precise, cadenced prose, this gifted young author has taken the messiest of lives and fashioned something beautiful.

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