||Dog Hollow Press
||Nov 15 2000
Heaven, Indiana follows the intertwined lives of three women born in 1954, taking a look at the glories and horrors of small town life, peeking to see what lies hidden underneath the flatness of the Heartland.
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Dog Hollow Press
One hot week in August 1954, in Heaven, Indiana, a baby is delivered twice: once in a barn by her grandfather, the second time to the tent door of a carnival fortune-teller by her grandmother Helen. The baby, Nadja, becomes part of a long tradition of well-kept secrets in the tiny town of her birth. She grows up traveling with her adoptive grandmother, the fortune-teller, learning to develop her own gifts of precognition, reading the remains of lunches and dinners to see what lies ahead in her clients' lives. Meanwhile, two other girls born in Heaven that same year are growing to maturity. Ellie Denson waits tables at Clara's Kitchen, and searches maps in her spare time, haunted by powerful urges to be Somewhere Else. Sue Ellen Sue Tipton marries her high school sweetheart and happily takes on the role of the town hairdresser, keeping herself informed on the latest in permanent waves and gossip, some of which revolves around Helen's temporary insanity and Lester's numerous affairs.
In spite of the penchant Heaven's denizens have for quietly getting into each other's business, a great many secrets manage to remain hidden, stuffed into apron pockets, tucked into attic trunks, locked into desk drawers. When Nadja's Granny decides to retire in Heaven, their reappearance in town begins to tease a number of these stories out into the open, with results that really give the town something to talk about. The stories emerge against the backdrop of Indiana's larger history of secrets, ranging from pre-Civil War anti-slavery societies to post-Reconstruction Klan activities. Heaven, Indiana weaves the subtle humor and muted manners of the Hoosier State together with its sometimes foolish and sometimes devastating legacy of secrets to trace how Ellie Denson does, finally, manage to leave and Nadja does, finally, truly get to come home.
Ellie slipped into the kitchen, from there into the enclosed back porch, and then out the door. Once in the yard she turned right, crossed the yard to the brick and concerete behind the rental units next door. Then to the alley, up Third Street and across Liberty, and whenever anyone passed she sat down on the yard curb and tried to look like she lived there.
She'd never gone to the park after dark before. Never seen the shapes of Third Street by streetlight. The hardware store at the corner was closed and full of shadows. By the railroad tracks, Pete's Gate hummed and smelled of beer. Crickets called from the yards she passed and lightning bugs seemed to invite a constant straying from the path.
A Glimpse of Heaven Leaves Readers Wanting More
by Wendy Fawthrop
Seattle Union Record
Lick up all the drips. In "Heaven, Indiana," chances for happiness melt as fast as a cherry-lime snow cone on a carnival midway.
Against the backdrop of Ferris wheels and fortunetellers, 40 years of life in small-town Heaven unfold in this first novel by Seattleite Jan Maher, published by Seattle's Dog Hollow Books.
Maher weaves the lives of three main characters and a dozen lesser ones through years of deception, guilt and yearning. It's a story of crossed paths, of roads not taken, a leaving and a homecoming.
By the end, life comes around as surely as the top car on the Ferris wheel.
"Heaven, Indiana" begins in 1954 with a baby born in a barn. But the little girl grows up away from heaven, traveling with a carnival fortuneteller. By the time she returns home, there are layers of secrets and relationships to peel away.
There's Ellie, who looks for Hope and grace on the folding maps she years to follow someday. There's Lester, who must life with the decision made by his wife in that barn all those years back. And there's Nadja, who sees people's futures in the scraps of food on their dirty dishes.
The denizens of Heaven walk the edge of caricature without ever quite stumbling over it. Sure, there's snoopy Eunice Switzer and the chatty waitress Stella, but this isn't "Picket Fences" or "Northern Exposure."
Maher's writing is evocative, with a Midwestern frankness and the cadences of small-town talk. (Maher, who has written several plays, including "Widow's Walk" and "Intruders," is a native Hoosier.)
Here's Minnie gossiping with her hairstylist about the philandering Lester: "Caught him practically in the act. he was down at the state fair and didn't know Helen and I had come down too. I was looking at the limas when she saw them over behind the livestock pens with their hands all over each other. Then I guess they headed off to Lester's truck and that's where she caught 'em. Put him right out in the pigsty."
This little bit of Heaven - a slight 167 pages - leaves us wanting more.
We want more time to linger with these characters, to listen in on more conversations at Sue Ellen Sue's House of Beauty or Clara's Kitchen. It's tricky to spin a yarn over 40 years and a couple handfuls of characters. Some characters we never get to know well enough. Others we don't expect to be fleshed out. Theirs are the stories and scandals from generations back, retold as part of coffee-shop lore, the shared history and values of a small town.
That's just life in Heaven, like the treats sold on the midway. Sweet and sticky.
When she's not on strike, Wendy Fawthrop is a copy editor at the Seattle Times and reviews books for Northwest Weekend. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com
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Reader Reviews for "Heaven, Indiana"
|Reviewed by Becky
|It's hard to evaluate with just the snippet included on this page. Perhaps if you had an entire chapter?|