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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 18, 2002

'Verbena' a skillful mix of Southern sweetness and real-life hardship

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Book Editor

"Verbena" by Nanci Kincaid. Algonquin, hardback, $24.95
I loved this book from the get-go. Within a few lines, I knew I was in the hands of a master — someone who would build me a world, people it and not get in my way as I took from it whatever was there for me. The best kind of book experience.

Nanci Kincaid's central character is a woman who wants what Southern women are taught to want: a normal, happy, uneventful life, the kind of life of which everyone can approve. Instead, life keeps handing her lemons, and she keeps having to make something of them — even if she can't quite manage anything as sweet as lemonade.

She is widowed, it turns out her husband was having an affair, the cat dies, her daughter runs off and she falls in love with a — sort of — married man. And that's not even halfway through the book.

Kincaid has an exceptional gift for voice. Verbena thinks and speaks just as she should: with the South's colorful idiom and the clipped rhythm of a woman driven half-distracted by work and children and what the dog threw up and her own fear that she's still not doing enough.

The characters moved me as effectively as if they actually existed: The palm of my hand itching to slap Verbena's daughter Sissy upside the head for wasting her life on a boy anyone with half an eye could see would leave her flat; my head nodding as I read of Verbena's quiet happiness at just lying in bed and listening to her man breathe.

There's a nice balance of sweet to real here — just like lemonade, come to think of it. The book ends as it inevitably has to, with a death, and with a lie that's the kindest kind of truth.