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Sing Them Home
Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos
by Stephanie Kallos

The absence of the mother: mourning and comfort

As Larken returns home to her small Nebraska hometown for her father Llwellyn Jones's funeral, his death provides the catalyst for Larken and her siblings to face the earlier loss of their mother Hope whose body just disappeared in the midst of a tornado. Without a body to mourn or any real answers about their mother's death, all three siblings' struggle in silent ways as her absence touches their lives. Larken, an art history teacher specializing in depictions of the Virgin, fills the empty spaces with food as she struggles for promotion and to fit in with the university's social structure. Gaelen, a meteorologist at the local television station, finds himself in one meaningless relationship after another. Even the inside of his house becomes a portrait of his internal life. Given the job at a time before all the technological sophistication of weather forecasting, Gaelen struggles to catch up with the changes in his the industry environment. Bonnie, the youngest sister and most dysfunctional of the three, hunts down the remnants of other's lives in litter strewn across the landscape, looking for signs of her mother and wishing for a child herself, a child she has little chance of ever having. As the siblings and their stepmother (by custom rather than a legal marriage) Viney come together, family bonds and conflicts open the door for transformation as a dramatic incident pulls them together.

In SING THEM HOME, Stephanie Kallos assembles an odd cast of characters, some not even particularly likable,sympathetic, or at least not the kind of classic expected main characters, at least not at first glance, and yet, in bringing these sometimes quirky characters together to tell their stories, Stephanie Kallos creates an entire universe within a small town. Even the ghosts of former residents join together to give the reader a sense of community that expands beyond time and the immediate lives of Larken, Gaelen and Bonnie. The narrative unfolds in a non-linear chronology as the past and present are joined side by side alongside Hope's journal entries. Not only do Hope's journals provide another perspective on the family but as the entries become closer and closer to the date of the tornado's destruction, questions abound, making her disappearance more mysterious until the final dramatic and poetic twist when past and present converge.

Poetic and yet expansive in narrative style and vision, SING THEM HOME looks deep into the human heart while also creating a vision of a community in which interactions and rituals bring people together. Themes of death, grief and absence join to create a story of possibilities and presence. Although SING THEM HOME takes death as its focal point, from this, Stephanie Kallos creates a sense of the raw vibrancy of life at its core. SING THEM HOME with its lyrical prose paints a spiritual portrait of a family, indeed an eccentric family at times, and a whole town.

After reading BROKEN FOR YOU by Stephanie Kallos, I wondered if anything could ever match that book which I consider one of my all-time favorites. I was even a bit apprehensive about tackling a book with grief at its center at this time of my life. This novel exceeded my hopes and then some. Rather than dragging this reader into grief, SING THEM HOME is a novel that soothes the spirit, creating a hope and a gentle expanding vision of wholeness. The delightful uniqueness of her characters and their town alongside the unexpected but intriguing plot twists and imagery made me look forward to being able to return to the world she created night after night of reading. SING THEM HOME is a deeply moving story of transformation. From dramatic and unsettling moments, a gentle all-encompassing sense of comfort emerges.

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (January 2009)

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
Courtesy of Amazon Vine

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