It's a beautiful thing when you follow a promising novelist's work and see it come to fruition as it does for Vinita Hampton Wright in the poignant Dwelling Places, the story of one family coming to terms with the hand life has dealt them.

Dwelling Places:
A Novel

by Vinita Hampton Wright
352 pp.; $23.95

Farmer-turned-mechanic Mack Barnes's depression over losing his father, his brother, and the bulk of his family's land in Beulah, Iowa, sends him to a mental hospital. When he returns home, it's to the reality of a wife who is looking for comfort elsewhere. His two teens are spiraling out of control, one becoming a Goth, the other drawn to apocalyptic, repressive Christianity. Wright excels at portraying elderly characters, as shown by Rita, Mack's mother, who cares for an aging circle of friends and attempts to glue her family back together with the sheer strength of her personality.

Classic hymn lyrics frame the story. Hampton Wright's characters are as multilayered as a torte, the dialogue smooth and uncluttered. Building on her previous efforts (Grace at Bender Springs, Velma Still Cooks in Leeway), this novel evinces a more mature use of language and sexuality.

Wright evokes a sense of place that will resonate with any reader who has ties to the Midwestern landscape.

Related Elsewhere:

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