The Given World

S. & S. Apr. 2015. 240p. ISBN 9781476777931. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476778051. F
Riley's older brother Mick is everything to her. His knowledge of the world, his music, his motorcycle—all light up her provincial existence on their Montana farm during the Sixties. It's traumatic enough for Riley when Mick leaves, first for college, then to fight in the Vietnam War, but when he is reported missing in action, life becomes a crushing burden for Riley. What follows are years of wandering from one place to another and a revolving door of relationships, jobs, and coping mechanisms. Whether she is in San Francisco or Vietnam, delivering newspapers or tending bar, getting high or getting drunk, Riley can never escape the hole left in her heart by Mick's disappearance.
VERDICT Riley tentatively connects with many characters and then loses them, and it is sometimes hard to keep track of all these downtrodden souls. There is a meaninglessness to Riley's experiences that don't seem to amount to anything in the end except a general exhaustion. However, debut novelist Palaia's prose is hypnotizing, and her fresh descriptions make the sadness portrayed bearable. This is a somber literary read but not without a dark beauty. [See Prepub Alert, 10/27/14.]
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