A Space Apart brings to life three generations of the Scarlin family in a small mining town in West Virginia. With warmth and precision, Meredith Sue Willis portrays every member of this remarkable family, the love that draws them together and the bitterness that divides them. The story, told from their different–and often conflicting–points of view, tells how each struggles to find his or her place, not only in the family, but in the world.
An eccentric old preacher is the patriarch of the family, a born-again Baptist, who used to preach at the mine sites, calling down lightning on the Catholic Church. His daughter, Mary Katherine, grows up to resent him for maligning the memory of her mother, while her brother, John, a recalcitrant preacher, remains aloof in his solitary ambition. John marries Vera, who forever baffles him with her pranks and “malicious mischief.” Willful and childlike, she plays out her fantasies, leaving her two daughters very much on their own: Lee, who goes to New York longing for a memory of family harmony; Tonie, moody and independent, who takes the most unlikely man in town as her lover.
A Space Apart is a novel of extraordinary perception and wit. Ms. Willis, in perfect control, draws us into the Scarlins’ relations with each other, their innermost thoughts, motives, and dreams. It is a novel to be read and reread for its rare quality and spirit.
“A Space Apart is so deftly and subtly written, I hardly noticed how involved I’d become until I’d read the last page and turned it, wanting more. The Scarlin family is going to be with me for a very long time.” –Anne Tyler
“Willis fleshes out with warmth and tenderness the complexities of family love, which not only defines commitment but deepens the need. An important new talent.” –The Kirkus Reviews
“The narrative carries warmth and strength. The people are as real as your next door neighbors.” —Houston Chronicle
“Willis views the Scarlin family ties and loyalties, limits and tensions, with realism, sensitivity and precision. A noteworthy first novel.” –Publisher’s Weekly
“This is the story of a broken family trying to mend itself through three generations. It is a painful but essential process, and like all such repair jobs, it is only partly successful. Before it is over we come to know John and Vera and Mary Kay, as well as Vera’s daughters, Lee and Tonie–to understand the wars they must declare and the peaces that they are able to proclaim within the state of being Scarlins. –The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Willis shapes her story with exquisite care, detailing the lives of a West Virginia preacher’s family: John Scarlin, minister and son of ‘the Preacher,’ a wild old born-again Baptist; John’s sturdy sister Mary Katherine; his capricious wife Vera, a strong character who commands attention in one fine scene after another; and his daughter Lee and Tonie who grow up to reject and embrace the meaning of Galatia, their hometown… Finally what is revealed by a family, inextricably bound together while struggling with each other’s need to find ‘a place apart.’ Narratively skilled and disciplined, this is an impressive debut. –Library Journal