The Book: Reynolds Price, KATE VAIDEN. Athaeneum, 1986 (first edition). Fine book in fine dust jacket; book has remainder mark on bottom thickness of pages.
First read: 1987
Owned since: 1994 (approximately, this copy)
Today's post is part of Patti Abbott's "Friday Forgotten Books" project, in which she asks bloggers to post about books that have been or might otherwise be forgotten. I'm honored to be part of this project, and didn't hesitate in choosing a book.
Although KATE VAIDEN won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1986, it's a book almost no one I know has read -- which is strange and sad, because it is a book that might have saved my life.
How or why is not a story for the blog. But KATE VAIDEN is the story, told in the first person, of a woman in her mid-50s who is trying to figure out a way to forgive herself for crimes she's been hiding from for more than 30 years.
Kate's parents loved each other not wisely but too well, and died in a murder-suicide when Kate was 11. She blames herself for that, and sees the terrible cost of passion. An aunt and uncle raise her, and she repays them by going to live with her cousin, a gay man, and having an affair with her cousin's partner. She has a child at 17, but cannot face the responsibility of raising him -- so she walks away without a word.
She doesn't go far; if her family wanted to track her down, they could. But they don't, and she spends the next 30-some years hiding in plain sight. Kate says she imagines her life is the same as any successful criminal's; she lives quietly, without calling attention to herself, and makes no deep connections with anyone.
And then she gets sick, and realizes that she needs to try to make things right -- whatever that might mean. KATE VAIDEN is her confession, but it is an explanation rather than an apology; she has spent so long atoning it's hard to tell exactly what she regrets. The book ends on a hopeful note, as Kate takes a chance on the possibility of forgiveness and redemption.
Reynolds Price is a great American writer who is shamefully under-recognized outside the South. Besides being a master prose stylist, he is also one of the nation's leading experts on the Gospels, and has written (among other things) a beautiful study of the Gospel of Mark. His great compassion shines through KATE VAIDEN, creating a truly sympathetic character from a woman who's done some pretty terrible things. If Kate is worthy of love, he seems to say -- and she is -- we all are.