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Joan the mother in Peter Hedges second novel An Ocean in Iowa is onstage for only part of the book but she hovers over every page Shes that new icon the woman who landed in suburbia by mistake Shes an artist a dedicated smoker and the shelter the best friend the nonconformist inspiration in the life of her 7-year-old son Scotty the novels hero Shes also an alcoholic but its a measure of whats good about this novel that Hedges doesnt present her drinking as some scarring trauma some trigger for abuse Scotty simply accepts it as most kids accept what happens around them so that we experience it as he does as not that big a deal Thats probably the most unconventional thing about An Ocean in Iowa the title comes from Scottys last name Ocean which follows Scotty through his seventh year -- 1969 -- after Joan moves out enrolls in college and takes an apartment 90 miles away from Scotty and his two older sisters Scottys father the Judge who we can see is doing his best to be both parents to his children but who remains too distant to ever engage our sympathies After Scotty and Joan Hedges most successful characterization is Scottys elementary-school teacher Shes instantly recognizable the sort of woman who after years of teaching still greets each new class with enthusiasm is firm and encouraging in equal measure and can still make her students think that learning is the thing that will usher them into the ranks of the big kids Finally though none of the novels limitations do much to diminish its emotional satisfactions Hedges lets us understand Scotty whos something of an enigma to others without ever resorting to explaining him He writes straightforward uncluttered prose thats sensitive without being fussy He doesnt make childhood falsely poetic or falsely tragic I dont think you need to have had a childhood like Scottys I didnt to feel
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