Summary and book reviews of Yellowcake by Ann Cummins

Yellowcake

A Novel

by Ann Cummins

Yellowcake
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2007, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2008, 320 pages

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Book Summary

A story of two families thirty years after the closing of the uranium mill near which they once made their homes. When one of the children becomes involved in a group seeking damages for those harmed by the radioactive dust that contaminated their world, their past and present collide for this eclectic cast of characters.

For her acclaimed collection of stories, Red Ant House, Joyce Carol Oates hailed Ann Cummins as “a master storyteller.” The San Francisco Chronicle called her “startlingly original.” Now, in her debut novel, Cummins stakes claim to rich new literary territory with a story of straddling cultures and cheating fate in the American Southwest. Yellowcake introduces us to two unforgettable families—one Navajo, one Anglo—some thirty years after the closing of the uranium mill near which they once made their homes. When little Becky Atcitty shows up on the Mahoneys’ doorstep all grown up, the past comes crashing in on Ryland and his lively brood. Becky, the daughter of one of the Navajo mill workers Ryland had supervised, is now involved in a group seeking damages for those harmed by the radioactive dust that contaminated their world. But Ryland wants no part of dredging up their past—or acknowledging his future. When his wife joins the cause, the messy, modern lives of this eclectic cast of characters collide once again, testing their mettle, stretching their faith, and reconnecting past and present in unexpected new ways. Finely crafted, deeply felt, and bursting with heartache and hilarity, Yellowcake is a moving story of how everyday people sort their way through life, with all its hidden hazards.

1

They come at ten o’clock in the morning. Ryland’s wife, Rosy, is at the fabric store with their daughter, Maggie, who’s getting married next month. Ryland goes ahead and opens the door against his better judgment. He always opens the door when somebody rings, though he usually regrets it. He is not afraid of muggers. Muggers, he figures, will leave sooner rather than later. He’s afraid of the neighbor lady, Mrs. Barron, who always leaves later, and the Mormon missionaries, who like to fight with his wife, they always leave later. And Pretty Boy across the street, old Hal Rivers, who waters his lawn in bikini swim trunks, parades young girls in and out, day in, day out, lady’s
man, though he has a gut and a little bald pate — still, the girls like him, which only goes to show that it’s not the looks but the pocketbook. Old Hal stopping by every now and again to chew the fat terrifies him, though Ryland makes sure the man ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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The result is a novel that is both compassionate and wise, that not only explores the legacy of radiation sickness but also illness and aging, and the misunderstandings that can arise between generations and cultures.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews

Library Journal

A tightly drawn and absorbing novel of the modern American Southwest, exploring themes of aging, illness, cultural misunderstandings, and strained family relationships honestly and realistically while also offering a strong regional flavor.

Kirkus Reviews

Cummins avoids distracting polemics, interweaving the personal and political with quiet authority.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Starred Review. Cummins brilliantly conflates the insidious damage wrought by radiation sickness with the maladies of the soul caused by prejudice, poverty, nature's abuse, and love's betrayal.

Author Blurb Sigrid Nunez, author of The Last of Her Kind and A Feather on the Breath of God
Already much admired for her superb short stories, Ann Cummins excels once more with a first novel that places her among the most serious and original writers of her generation.

Author Blurb Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier
A gorgeous novel about people who are as tender and ornery and passionate and mixed-up and real as the people we know in real life. I loved them, and I love this book.

Author Blurb Peter Orner, author of The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo and Esther Stories
Glorious . . . an unflinchingly honest look at the struggles faced by so-called ordinary Americans. But there is nothing at all ordinary about the wonderful, fully fleshed characters that populate this book. Cummins knows the souls of her people — an incredibly wide range of them — and she knows her place, a Southwest that is rendered in all its unromantic but somehow blessed beauty.

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Beyond the Book

Did you know?
According to the Uranium Information Center:

  • Over half of the world's production of uranium is from mines in Australia and Canada.
  • 8 mining companies account for almost 80% of production.
  • Nuclear energy supplies over 16% of the world's electricity.
  • 31 countries use nuclear energy to generate electricity.
  • 80% of France's electricity is from nuclear power.
  • Over 12,000 reactor years of operational ...

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