Lisa Shea Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Lisa Shea Hula

Born in 1953, Shea is an American novelist, editor, journalist, and poet.

Hula (1994) is a moving account of survival, child abuse, sibling rivalry, male-female relationships, and the disintegration of a family. Centering on a war veteran, his passive wife, and their two daughters, the episodic Hula is told from the perspective of the youngest child and details over the course of two summers the sisters' entrance into adolescence, their growing interest in sex, and the demise of their parents' marriage. Subjected to their alcoholic father's random acts of violence and cruelty—he exhibits a penchant for arson, often destroys the girls' playthings, and in one scene tries to kidnap them at gunpoint—the narrator and her sister attempt to escape their situation by devoting their affections to their dog and by creating a fantasy world. Their bond of interdependence, however, remains irrevocably threatened by their fights with each other and by the older girl's relationships with the neighborhood boys. Earning Shea a 1993 Whiting Writers' Award, Hula has been generally well received. Although occasionally faulted for its one-dimensional portraits of the parents, Hula is noted for its psychological acuity and factual recounting of disturbing events in a voice that is devoid of artifice and emotion. Cynthia Dockrell observed: "Shea establishes a tension that builds almost unbearably as the novel progresses. She achieves this in part through the oddly distant first-person telling of the story; the girl's blunt, childlike recording of horrific events, interspersed with her descriptions of the pent-up, overheated atmosphere, pulls her back from the action while drawing us closer to it. Shea's taut prose further adds to the story's power as she paints vivid pictures stripped of all but the barest essentials."