From commonplace ingredients--a Midwestern setting, a child troubled by her parents' rocky marriage--King crafts a resonant first novel. Without being judgmental and with a singular voice, narrator Isobel Roundtree looks back on her naivete during one year of her childhood. When her impetuous, disloyal mother, Clematis, runs off to pursue a singing career on the same fateful day as JFK's assassination, 10-year-old Isobel is shattered. Living with her hangdog father on his Indiana hog farm, she vainly hopes that Clematis will someday restore the family's happiness.
Instead, salvation arrives with Emma, a 29-year-old transient who moves in as a "housekeeper'' and becomes the stabilizing factor for the Roundtrees. A sense of foreboding prevails, however, as Isobel holds to her determined belief that wayward Clematis--still loved by her husband and sought by a sinister ex-con--will return to disrupt things anew. Never off pitch, King's portrayal rings particularly true as Isobel gradually learns that her jealousy and anger cannot affect the adult relationships around her. This homespun tale sharply limns a girl's transition from innocence to understanding.