In Roanoke, Virginia, Sybill Hess, a middle-aged spinster, suffers splitting headaches. Under hypnosis, she recalls her mother’s ax murder of her father. She leaves immediately for the homestead in Booker Creek, Virginia, to investigate.
When Sybill arrives, her mother lies dying from a stroke. As the family gathers around, Sybill makes a hysterical but vain attempt to learn the truth. Her mother--a monument of Booker Creek respectability--dies without speaking, and a family scene erupts in the hospital hallway.
After the funeral, as the legacy is divided, a family investigation quietly proceeds. What is unearthed is shocking for the family, but entertainment for the small town: a corpse, a diary, some interesting revelations concerning parentage, and a whole series of infidelities.
The reader may be either shocked or entertained or both. Only to the reader is all the dirty linen aired, since the story is told through an amazing variety of interior monologues and restricted points of view: two sisters’, four daughters’, one son’s, one grandson’s, and the deceased’s (through the diary). It is a human zoo of voices and characters.
The variety of voices that the author commands is reminiscent of her previous novel, ORAL HISTORY. So too is the insight into family dynamics, the mystery of individual fates, and social change through the generations. The last is amply and happily in evidence at the end when, in this small Appalachian town, a pregnant granddaughter of the deceased is married, with the wedding ceremony held by the family’s new swimming pool--built on the spot where the corpse was dug up.