Warlick's 'Summer After June': delicious tensions

January 16, 2000|By Harry Merritt | Harry Merritt,Sun Staff

"The Summer After June," by Ashley Warlick. Houghton Mifflin. 254 pages. $23.

Lindy Jain is on the run. From the wedding she can't go through with. From her hometown, where her older sister, June, has been murdered. From Jimmy, the brother-in-law she suspects was involved in June's death. From her job -- You name it, Lindy is leaving it behind.

Lindy's run will take her far, from Charlotte, N.C., to Galveston, on the Gulf Coast of Texas, yet it will also bring her closer to home than she has ever been.

"The Summer After June," by Ashley Warlick, is a graceful, sensual and often poignant literary novel about a young woman's desperate quest to know her own heart. The book is the second by Warlick, of Greenville, S.C., a writer in her 20s who won praise for a first novel called "The Distance from the Heart of Things." "June" demonstrates that Warlick is more than a one-shot wonder.

Lindy and June were close, and June's murder early in the year leaves Lindy inconsolable. The medical center where Lindy is a nurse has her prepare June's body for the funeral; while doing the work, she removes her own engagement ring, drops it into June's remains, then stitches her sister closed.

After a confrontation with Jimmy, Lindy takes the one thing she can claim of June's, her infant son, and runs away, afraid that Jimmy will follow and take his child away from her.

Galveston, where Lindy ends up, is where her grandmother, Esther, almost a century old, lives in a retirement home. Esther still owns the house where Lindy and June played as children, so Lindy and her nephew move in. By then, Lindy has discovered that she is pregnant -- by the fiance she walked out on in Charlotte.

Esther's property has a garden, dense and a bit eerie, tended on occasion by a man who turns out to be Orrin, a much adored playmate from Lindy's childhood. Back then, Orrin was the younger boy who tagged along when Lindy and June were playing; now he's a beguiling and "golden" young man with a knack for helping women in distress.

You might think you can figure out what happens next, but it doesn't. Warlick is not one to rush things, so there's plenty of talk and a lot of delicious (or maddening?) tension before it's clear what will happen.

Orrin, part charmer, part mystic, has a variety of connections to babies living and dead. Not, of course, to the one Lindy is carrying; Orrin just wishes the child was his. He feels the same way about Lindy's nephew, June's son, the toddler he calls Little Man. This yearning to be a daddy only heightens Orrin's appeal in Lindy's eyes.

There's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing in "The Summer After June," and it is not always clear why. At times, Warlick has so many themes and images in play that the story bids to become as tangled as Esther's garden, but there's plenty to like and admire about this book.

Harry Merritt, a Sun features editor, worked previously at the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, where he edited award-winning series, directed political coverage and was the paper's writing coach.

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