Rattlebone Summary
by Maxine Clair

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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Each story in this collection focuses on a particular event in Irene Wilson’s childhood. Many of the characters show up in several stories, and their different functions in each story create a seemingly accidental multiperspective picture of each, and Clair leaves us with a deep, wide, rich fabric of the lives in this town.

In “October Brown,” Irene takes readers through her discovery that her father is having an affair with her own teacher. In “Lemonade,” Irene tells about a woman who drives into the neighborhood and gives little shows to interest the children in Catholicism. In “Water Seeks Its Own Level,” readers follow Irene’s father, James Wilson, down to the levee with some friends as the Missouri River threatens to overflow its banks. In “Cherry Bomb,” Irene tells of the time a rude boyfriend tries to introduce her to sex. In “The Roomers,” Mrs. Pemberton, who runs the teachers’ rooming house, tells of the time her husband leaves home to protect Miss October Brown when she is pregnant with James Wilson’s baby.

In “A Most Serene Girl,” Irene tells of adventures with her friend Geraldine which lead to Irene’s discovery of her own mother having an affair. In “The Great War,” readers get a picture of Irene’s mother waiting while James goes long distances to work. In “Secret Love,” Irene helps her mother move her father’s things upstairs as her mother decides they will have separate bedrooms. In “The Creation,” Irene tells about her success in a speaking contest at school and her brief romance with one of the Red Quanders that lives nearby in Redtown. In “A Sunday Kind of Love,” readers see the neighbor Wanda grown into a young woman and taking up with Mr. Pemberton after his wife passes away. Finally, in “The Last Day of School,” Irene tells of the Air Force jet that crashes into her school, changing the town forever; her parents splitting up but starting a successful cleaning business together; and her own scholarship to college through a sorority led partly by Miss October Brown.

The reader is left with an understanding of this community that is especially vivid as a result of Clair’s perfectly and sparsely chosen words and her incisive exploration of these peoples’ hearts.