A Circle of Earth

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In an exceptionally poetic and circuitous weaving of narrative lines, Patricia Weil pens an intimate tale connecting two distinct families, the Grays and the Griffens in a situation of economical and emotional need; a very slowly-moving portrait of said families left in shambles in the course of the Great Depression, the South’s war, and the lackluster obligatory roles that infiltrate their domestic lives in the period in-between it all. Major characters of opposite family structures, Henry Gray and Emma Griffen are foils of each other throughout the entire trajectory of the book—their mirroring experiences of marital routine and parental duty provide intense observations into the male-female sensibilities in this era.

The book is constantly flanked by Henry and Emma’s contemplations, their interior worlds and the sequence of events pouring outward in their immediate rural surroundings. Willed by country upbringings, subdued weddings and conflicting love matches, the birth of numerous children and dispirited positions thereafter in public and private, A Circle of Earth gets lost in thought on the demise of couple familiarity, responsibility and dependability. Henry Gray lives a rather boring life as owner of a cotton sawmill and among “small domestic occurrences” but gets pulled into the secret game of craps, “A tension, an urgency, rang through the circle of bodies” in the game, much like the overall comings and goings in the gloomy and awful ridden arrangement of the characters’ lives(117). On the other side, too, Emma navigates a landscape of humdrum in her household and on the farm with her husband, “She would do what was expected of her” (69). Eventually, Henry and Emma are abandoned by their prospective spouses and then endure an even greater decline in their public faces and private reactions to these burning circumstances leading up to marriage breakages and the lowly after effects even with attempted reconciliation.

The dreariness of much of this time passing in the novel creates longwinded lapses, where the storyline shifts suddenly to secondary characters, like Emma’s husband Ralston and Henry’s wife Lillian, and then consecutive chapters are dedicated to their ruminations and deep trenches of monologue, which makes it difficult to commit again to the main case in point. Conversely, a dawdling set up in the novel creates a drawback for the reader because there is little to no action in the first half of the book; much of the time trail offs (recollections and present moments), narrative crossings from chapter to chapter and jumping between consciousnesses do very little to propel the plot forward in a steady enough manner. It is not until midway into the novel that a reader can appreciate and fully understand in depth the impact of these lives that are interwoven; it takes nearly 200 pages into the work of fiction to clearly distinguish the extent that the Grays and Griffens are interconnected, not only through the inadequacy of conditions in their personal lives but in the social affiliations as well through the eventual courting of Frank “Buddy” Griffen and Beatrice “Betty Kate” Gray. Still, by and large the descriptions tying all these accounts together are craftily written and graceful; the intensity of free-flowing emotions delineates the struggle to define existence and the dissatisfaction thereof in this twisting and bending chronicle of characters, which culminates in a shared and touching anecdote that reaches every part of humanity.

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Star Count 4/5
Format Trade
Page Count 395 pages
Publisher Outskirts Press
Publish Date 27-Mar-2014
ISBN 9781478726807
Bookshop.org Buy this Book
Issue August 2014
Category Historical Fiction


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