9780374253233 / 0374253234

Sabbathday River


Publisher:Farrar Straus & Giroux (T)



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About the book:

The Sabbathday River explores a rushing stream of themes, beginning with the breaking of several of the Ten Commandments and touching on loss, faith, gender politics, and motherhood as it illuminates the darkness of an unthinkable crime. Naomi Roth--divorced, liberal, feminist, and Jewish--is very much an outsider in Goddard, New Hampshire, though she's lived there for nine years and manages a crafts cooperative that employs many local women. When Naomi finds the body of a murdered newborn floating in the river, the town's normal atmosphere of suspicion intensifies as gossip begins to swirl around its Jezebel, Heather Pratt, who has previously borne a child by a married man. The district attorney extracts a tainted confession from Heather that she gave birth to a new baby by her now-estranged lover and left it for dead. Meanwhile, Naomi finds a second dead newborn in a pond, leading to a charge of not one murder but two--though Heather insists that she had only one baby and that it was stillborn. A furious Naomi convinces Judith Newman, a fellow New Yorker and lawyer new to Goddard, to take on Heather's defense.

Though the prosecution's case is exceedingly farfetched and the D.A. clumsily duplicitous, local sentiment runs deeply against Heather, whose apathy and refusal to face reality annoy even her few supporters. What's more, the case becomes a political football when news organizations and a radical feminist group converge on the town, eager to turn Heather into a symbol of oppression. Judith mounts an impressively cohesive defense, yet in the end help comes from an unexpected source.

After the protracted courtroom drama, the essential puzzle still remains: Whose is the second baby? Oddly, Jean Hanff Korelitz telegraphs the surprise ending disappointingly early, deflating the denouement somewhat. Yet the characters at the book's core--intelligent, analytical, argumentative--and their personal dramas are intriguing enough to overshadow the small faults of plot, making The Sabbathday River a rewarding, if longish, literary mystery. --Barrie Trinkle

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