(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Kate Vaiden is an unusual book in that it has its base in a sensationalism that is almost melodramatic, yet its author has the skill to elevate the narrative above the level of sheer sensationalism into the realm of serious literature that deals with and presents universal truths. Before she was eighteen, Kate Vaiden, now a fifty-seven-year-old woman, had survived the murder of her mother by her father and his suicide, the accidental death of her favorite lover, the suicides of two of her lovers, the illegitimate birth of a son, and the anguish of giving him up. The basic story has the makings of a cheap, tawdry novel, but Price imbues it with dignity and shows nobility in its protagonist, Kate.

The telling of the narrative occurs in 1984, when Kate—like Price himself—was recuperating from cancer surgery. Her brush with death has made her determined to find the son she bore some forty years before. Facing pressures with which she was quite unequipped to deal, she had abandoned him when he was four months old. Her story unfolds as a justification, an explanation that will possibly help her child, Lee, to understand, possibly even to love, his natural mother. The story is also a step in Price’s quest to understand his own mother, a quest that is prevalent in Love and Work and that he deals with more overtly in Clear Pictures, his autobiography.

In the first scene of the novel, Kate has accompanied her mother, Frances, to the funeral of her cousin, Taswell Porter, who has been killed in a motorcycle crash. Dan, Kate’s father, does not want Frances to go to the funeral, and he stays home in Greensboro in a rage. The day afterward, however, he goes to...

(The entire section is 697 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Kate Vaiden’s protagonist is an aging woman trying to exorcise the demons of her past. She needs to recount the events of her troubled life to the son she abandoned more than forty years ago, when he was four months old, to win his forgiveness. In piecing together her story, Kate discovers much about herself and reveals an impressive inner strength.

In 1984, Kate Vaiden is recovering from cancer surgery. Her life-threatening cervical carcinoma causes her to reflect upon her life and makes her determined to find the son she, as a frightened, unmarried, ashamed seventeen-year-old in a small Southern town, left in the care of her aunt, Caroline Porter. Kate lives near Macon, North Carolina, where her son is reared, but she has suspended all contact with her family there.

From age eleven, Kate’s life is melodramatic. Price, however, succeeds in raising the story above its surface sensationalism by focusing on universal truths that direct Kate’s life. The only child of Dan and Frances Vaiden, Kate was reared by her Aunt Caroline, Frances’s sister.

Early in the novel, Kate has come with her mother from Greensboro, where they live, to Macon, the small town near the Virginia border where Frances was reared, for the funeral of cousin Taswell Porter, recently killed in a motorcycle accident. Frances’s husband, however, has refused to attend the funeral, and he is enraged when his wife insists on going. Kate learns late in her life that her father suspected Frances of having an affair with her cousin, Swift Porter, who would surely attend the funeral.

The day after Taswell’s burial, Swift asks Frances to go with him to check the grave. Dan Vaiden, smoldering with jealousy, has come to Macon and is stalking his wife. He follows her when she goes into the woods with Swift and, confronting her, fires his revolver, wounding her fatally before turning the gun on himself.

Kate, orphaned at age eleven, is overcome by sorrow, confusion, and...

(The entire section is 817 words.)