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"I got handed lemons, too, y'know-but I learned how to make lemonade with them.... No one ever told me I had to add sugar but that's life for you. It ain't sweet." That's the jumbled and unforgiving logic that drives Flock's (But Inside I'm Screaming) second novel, a punishing Southern family drama that tries to achieve To Kill a Mockingbird-grade poignancy by heaping tribulations on its child narrator. The novel starts off sweetly, with the smalltown antics of Carrie, a scrappy Scout-like eight-year-old who's always accompanied by her younger sister Emma. Carrie dreamily darts back and forth between her rough-and-tumble present (abusive stepfather, unloving mother) and the happy memories of her dead father, creating a bittersweet picture of her life in Toast, N.C., spiked with colorful Southern language and some feisty supporting characters. But journalist Flock soon loses control of her meandering story and this Southern slice-of-life disintegrates into narrative chaos. The action moves "slow as a crippled turtle," as Carrie's Momma would say, and down-home charm fails to camouflage the creaky, roundabout chronology. After nearly 300 pages of rambling drama, the twist at the end is revealed so haphazardly that it will probably bewilder readers more than surprise them. Sugarcoated it ain't, but instead of delivering profundity, Flock's tough love turns poor forsaken Carrie into a caricature. Agent, Laura Dail. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.