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Lydia    by Tim Sandlin order for
by Tim Sandlin
Order:  USA  Can
Sourcebooks, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

At the beginning of Lydia, Lydia Callahan has just been released from prison, after being locked up for threatening to poison the President's dog. 'Lydia was fifty-eight years old; in her dreams she was twenty.' She is the mother of the narrator, and part of the interesting family group whose stories entertain us in this novel. Lydia's granddaughter Shannon returns home to GroVont, Wyoming because Lydia wants her there to welcome her home. Shannon's father Sam and his wife Gilia run a home there for unwed mothers. Shannon's mother Maurey and her husband Pud have a horse ranch and have taken in foster children in the past, one of whom, Roger, is now grown and working at the home for unwed mothers. These folks, with Leroy, who has a past history with Maurey and Roger, form the main story.

There is another story being told, though. Lydia is required to complete many hours of community service as a condition of her release, and she has been given the job of recording the life story of Oly Pedersen, who will be turning 100 in August. When her parole officer assigns her the job, Lydia remembers Oly from when she lived in GroVont before she went into hiding and to prison after her crime: 'A picture of Oly formed in my mind - huge Adam's apple, visible thyroid gland, spots on his forehead, hands you could see the veins through. He'd been ancient thirty years ago.' This subplot begins with Oly's childhood and appears in various chapters printed in a different font from the main story. The only apparent reason for its inclusion in the book is the excuse of Lydia's community service. She finds recording Oly's history to be an onerous chore, but the story is interesting, so I'm not sure what that tells us about Lydia's character except that she's so self-absorbed that someone else's memories are unimportant to her unless they somehow concern her.

Going back and forth between the two stories was wrenching, though. Just as I would get interested in the action in one story, the book switched back to the other one. I find that an annoying literary trick. I enjoyed the book in spite of that, but when I finished it, I thought the main story was so thin that maybe the author needed a subplot to fill out the novel. That said, having two stories kept the plot moving along toward the conclusion, which turned out to be surprising and kind of fun in a macabre sort of way.

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