Barbara Shoup (author); AN AMERICAN TUNE; Indiana University Press (Fiction: General) 19.00 ISBN: 9780253007421
Byline: Leia Menlove
Some writers have a gift for creating cozy scenes and comfortable locales despite a larger context of unease and violence. In her new novel An American Tune, Barbara Shoup accomplishes this: meticulously establishing pleasant, comfortable settings of seemingly well-lived lives, then undercutting them with the creeping shadow of a very messy reality. In this case it's the Vietnam war.
The story begins with in the early 2000s with 50-something Nora Quillen revisiting her alma mater in the Midwest. Nora's daughter is slated to startt here in just a few days despite Nora's initial protests. We soon discover two things: that something awful once happened to Nora there, and that Nora is not her real name at all.
Back we go in time then to 1965. Young Jane is starting college herself, just a normal girl from a blue-collar family. Her college experience is banal but richly drawn by Shoup: She finds a friend (the off-kilter Bridget); she gets a boyfriend; she grows apart from her family; her classes challenge her. Yet in the background, slowly working its way into Jane's consciousness, is the Vietnam war and those who protest it. Jane seems to want only a small life, one without violence or tumult. Indeed, she wants the quiet moments of beauty that Shoup draws so well for us.
As her lifestyle clashes with those of her protester friends, she poses the question, "What's so wrong with being happy?" Yet she is highly...