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Crows Over a Wheatfield


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Lawyer Melanie Ratleer stoically recounts her family story and its links to the domestic violence and child custody proceedings endured by her friend, Mildred Steck. Melanie's mother died when she was seven, and her tyrannical father soon remarried Ottilie, a young woman who gave birth to his son, Matt, seven years earlier. Melanie, Ottilie, and Matt sought refuge in each other's company and eventually escaped: Melanie to her mother's family and law school, Matt to psychosis, and Ottilie to another town. When Melanie returns years later, Ottilie and Matt are lovingly attached to Rev. John Steck, who runs the halfway house where Matt resides along with his daughter, Mildred, and her son, Ben. Sharp's (Lost in Jersey City, HarperCollins, 1993) story beguilingly turns to Mildred's heroism in the face of an abusive husband and a legal system that fails to protect women and children. A chilling tale, forthrightly told; highly recommended for all fiction collections.‘Sheila M. Riley, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, D.C.

Sharp's new novel about domestic violence may seem a radical departure from the warm, often ribald family stories found in her earlier books, Lost in Jersey City and The Woman Who Was Not All There. Her characters here are as splendidly realized as before, and rendered with insight and humor, as Sharp tackles this serious subject with the legal expertise gleaned from her career as a criminal attorney. She weaves a highly suspenseful, complicated plot paced with unflagging narrative momentum and enhanced with telling details. The story brings together two women‘New York judge Melanie Ratleer and idealistic social activist Mildred Steck‘who have endured domestic violence. Spanning a period of 40 years, the novel begins in rural Wisconsin in the 1950s, where Melanie, her stepmother and half-brother, Matt, live under the shadow of her father's tyranny. Joel Ratleer is a renowned criminal attorney, but he brutally abuses his family, especially Matt, until the boy has a mental breakdown. Eventually, Matt finds shelter at a halfway house established by Mildred's father. When it is discovered that Mildred's husband, Daniel, is torturing their young son, Mildred flees with the boy after a fatuous judge seems ready to award custody to the viciously mendacious Daniel. Still on the lam, Mildred begins an underground railroad to help other families victimized by violence and legal ineptitude. Communicating with Melanie via the Internet, she pulls her into another case involving a woman who has fled an abusive but socially powerful husband. The court scenes in this novel bristle with the interaction of the participants' personalities; they are riveting. From start to finish, this is an emotionally involving story whose powerful message is commensurate with the social problem it illustrates with gripping accuracy. Major ad/promo; Italian and Spanish rights sold; author tour. (Aug.)

Book-of-the-Month Club If you felt forlorn as you turned the last page of "The World According to Garp "or "The Joy Luck Club," certain it would be impossible to find another book that so beautifully captured the idiosyncratic joys and miseries of family life -- despair no more. Paula Sharp's "Crows Over a Wheatfield "is about to become your next book.

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