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Janis Owens was born in Marianna, a small town in the Florida Panhandle. Her father was a preacher and insurance salesman who moved his family to Mississippi and Louisiana before settling back in north Florida. She earned a degree in English and Southern History from the University of Florida. She is also the author of Myra Sims, the companion to My Brother Michael.
Despite a slightly irregular storyline, this first novel is certain to create a loyal readership for Owens. The narrative voice of Gabriel Catts, who relates the story of his lifelong love for his brother's wife, is nothing short of stunning. Myra, loved by both Gabriel and his brother, Michael, lives a life irrevocably tainted by a childhood of abuse and incest at the hands of her father. Added to the characters' other emotional demons-insanity and infidelity-the story could have been a dark and depressing one. Instead, because Owens depicts these demons against the backdrop of Southern cultural and familial restrictions that ultimately offer salvation, the story is one of quiet victory. Recommended for libraries with Southern fiction collections.-Susan C. Colegrove, Athens Regional Lib. System, Ga.
In a first novel that oozes Southern authenticity like honey over a hot biscuit, Gabriel Catts, a Civil War historian and academic raised in a small north Florida mill town, tells the turbulent story of his unquenchable love for his brother's wife. The son of a poor day laborer and a strict though loving Baptist mother, young Gabriel falls in love with Myra, the girl next door, whose father is savagely abusive. No sooner is Gabriel attracted, however, than Myra leaves to live with relatives in Alabama. Nearly a decade later, Gabriel, visiting home from college, finds that Myra has returned to town and has married his own brother, Michael. Heartbroken but resigned, Gabriel leaves for graduate school up north. Years later, he comes back once more and is invited to live with his brother, who has become an absent super-provider, working endless hours at the mill to buy a pretty house for his wife and to back his brother's intellectual dreams. Ostensibly writing a book but unable to suppress his love for Myra, who, unbeknownst to him, has been diagnosed as schizophrenic and put on lithium, Gabriel plunges into an affair with her and tries to convince her to marry him. Myra's pregnancy precipitates Gabriel's exile for another decade. After his brother dies at 43 and Gabriel weathers another heartrending reunion with Myra, their love child and his family, he sits down to grapple with his life story. Though Owen's fraternal melodrama can't avoid sentimentality, her fine writing and the ring of her natural voice will carry readers along like a tale told on a porch on a sultry Southern night. (Mar.)
"Of all the novels written about families, very few have been able to make the reader blood kin. My Brother Michael does this, in depth and power. To an almost worked-out tradition, Janis Owens brings an astonishing renewal."