Summary and book reviews of Heaven, Indiana by Jan Maher

Heaven, Indiana

by Jan Maher

Heaven, Indiana by Jan Maher X
Heaven, Indiana by Jan Maher
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    Nov 2000, 169 pages

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Lick up all the drips. In Heaven, Indiana chances for happiness melt as fast as a cherry-lime snow cone on a carnival midway. Against a backdrop of Ferris wheels and fortunetellers, 40 years of life in small-town Heaven unfold in this first novel by Seattleite Jan Maher

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.

1954

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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Media Reviews

A Country Rag Rural Review - Gwendoline Y. Fortune
Seldom do I care to read a novel a second time. This is not the case with Heaven, Indiana. It is a small book, but not a fast read. The reader will be willing to savor the subtle depths the author presents. I've bought copies for gifts, because I love this book.

Seattle Union Record - Wendy Fawthrop
Lick up all the drips. In Heaven, Indiana chances for happiness melt as fast as a cherry-lime snow cone on a carnival midway. Against a backdrop of Ferris wheels and fortunetellers, 40 years of life in small-town Heaven unfold in this first novel by Seattleite Jan Maher....This little bit of Heaven - a slight 167 pages - leaves us wanting more. We want more time to linger with these characters, to listen in on more conversations at Sue Ellen Sue's House of Beauty or Clara's Kitchen. It's tricky to spin a yarn over 40 years and a couple handfuls of characters. Some characters we never get to know well enough. Others we don't expect to be fleshed out. Theirs are the stories and scandals from generations back, retold as part of coffee-shop lore, the shared history and values of a small town. That's just life in Heaven, like the treats sold on the midway. Sweet and sticky.

Author Blurb Carol Bly, author of My Lord Bag of Rice and Beyond the Writers' Workshop
I love your humane, welcoming presence in the narrative...also a kind of ongoing background wit...I want to tell you you have real fictionness (a term I think the critic Donald Hall thought up himself)-story-ness, a blessed relief from obviously converted autobiography, and I will look forward all day to knowing I have a real book to disappear into tonight....You have got to have one of the most visual minds of any writer. Amazing.

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