One hot week in August 1954, in Heaven, Indiana, a baby is delivered twice: once in a barn by her grandfather, the second time to the tent door of a carnival fortune-teller by her grandmother Helen. The baby, Nadja, becomes part of a long tradition of well-kept secrets in the tiny town of her birth. She grows up traveling with her adoptive grandmother, the fortune-teller, learning to develop her own gifts of precognition, reading the remains of lunches and dinners to see what lies ahead in her clients' lives.
Meanwhile, two other girls born in Heaven that same year are growing to maturity. Ellie Denson waits tables at Clara's Kitchen, and searches maps in her spare time, haunted by powerful urges to be Somewhere Else. Sue Ellen Sue Tipton marries her high school sweetheart and happily takes on the role of the town hairdresser, keeping herself informed on the latest in permanent waves and gossip, some of which revolves around Helen's temporary insanity and Lester's numerous affairs.
In spite of the penchant Heaven's denizens have for quietly getting into each other's business, a great many secrets manage to remain hidden, stuffed into apron pockets, tucked into attic trunks, locked into desk drawers. When Nadja's Granny decides to retire in Heaven, their reappearance in town begins to tease a number of these stories out into the open, with results that really give the town something to talk about. The stories emerge against the backdrop of Indiana's larger history of secrets, ranging from pre-Civil War anti-slavery societies to post-Reconstruction Klan activities.
Heaven, Indiana weaves the subtle humor and muted manners of the Hoosier State together with its sometimes foolish and sometimes devastating legacy of secrets to trace how Ellie Denson does, finally, manage to leave and Nadja does, finally, truly get to come home.
ELEPHANTS PACED RESTLESSLY, their immense feet beating slow syncopations. Monkeys gossiped nervously of fearful and forbidden places. Chameleons flicked their quick tongues and tasted the August air. An unblinking boa curled round the single rock that graced its cage; the tiger mother bared her teeth and readied her claws.
Out on Millstone Road, up in Lester and Helen Breck's barn, daughter Melinda howled in surprise, then roared in rage. Pain had taken her past exhaustion to a point of pure compelling necessity. Angry at the wrenching labor, this betrayal of nature, she took a great gulp of air and finally expelled her squalling daughter. Rough hands guided the infant upwards to her mother's belly; placed her by the breast. The anonymous babe turned her lips, seeking the nipple, and laid claim to her first meal.
Around the corner and down the road, the Wild Animal Caravan of the Hoosier Midways Carnival, mysteriously persuaded that the worst of some invisible...
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This witty and lovingly told memoir takes readers back to a time when small-town America was caught in the amber of the innocent postwar period--people helped their neighbors, went to church on Sunday, and kept barnyard animals in their backyards.
Heartbreakingly tender, often hilarious - a delectable treat from a writer who has been called a national treasure.
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