Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Heat Lightning

When I was in Maine last summer, I went to the Big Chicken Barn Antique and Used Book store, which has a massive second floor entirely devoted to shelves and shelves of used books. Although I only came away with one find, it was a good one: a vintage copy of Heat Lightning by Helen Hull, which I snapped up knowing that it had been recently reissued by Persephone Books. It wasn't until several months had passed, however, and I finally took it off the shelf to read that I realized what I treasure I had found....

...when I opened the front cover and discovered an inscription from the author, reading "Inscribed for Gale M. Hinckley, Most Sincerely Yours, Helen Hull, July 31, 1936". 

Interestingly, on a whim I Googled Gale M. Hinckley and, in addition to some census records, a number of results came up for used book dealers that mention Gale M. Hinckley's bookplate in the description of various books they have available for sale. One is even noted as being inscribed "with cordial regards, J. Edgar Hoover, 1938". It's so fascinating to think that this woman, a fairly ordinary person as far as I can tell, has spread a tiny legacy of herself through her bookplates. It makes me want to start using them in my own books now.

After the discovery of the inscription, it was icing on the cake to find that I completely loved Hull's writing in Heat Lightning. The novel tells the story of Amy Norton, a New Yorker who returns to her Midwestern hometown for a week's respite to escape a rough patch in her marriage. Amy's family is one of the most prominent in their small town and her week with them is filled with all manner of drama, from birth to death with several revelations of scandalous family secrets in between. It's a plot that in lesser hands could easily fall into the territory of silly melodrama, but Hull handles them skillfully and with subtlety. The family members' interactions with one another offer one of the most realistic portrayals of an extended family that I've seen, even in spite of some of the less than typical situations that are thrown at them. During the course of Amy's visit, she sees the lifecycle of her family condensed into a matter of days, which in turn makes her reassess her own life with her family in New York. I highly recommend this one--even if you're not lucky enough to get your hands on an autographed copy.

1 comment:

  1. This book sounds very good and I will try to get a copy. I love your story of purchasing it and then discovering the book plate, and its history. Sounds like you are a fan of Maine, one of my very favorite places to visit. Thanks for the interesting review!



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