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The Wishing Jar

Abby Quinn McDougall is a Southern lady whose once picturesque small-town life seems to be shrinking. Widowed at fifty and burdened by the care of an ailing mother and a cantankerous teenaged daughter, Abby wishes her life were simpler and her responsibilities fewer. Abby's daughter, Neal Grace, devastated by the loss of her doting father and the illness of her beloved grandmother, wishes for change, for the chance to break free from other people's expectations. And Abby's mother Edith wishes only to be liberated from life itself. But wishes often backfire. As their wishes begin to come true, the Quinn women start to wonder: Could it be that their old life wasn't so bad after all? Is it possible that the answer to their deepest longings has been right in front of them, all along?
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Stokes has an unquenchable penchant for using the symbolism of objects as a springboard for her stories (The Memory Book; The Amber Photograph; The Treasure Box) and this novel predictably combines her distinctively good writing with a mostly recycled plot line involving time travel and women looking to the past for guidance. This contemporary tale, aimed loosely at evangelical Christian women, features 51-year-old widow Abby Quinn McDougall lamenting her life. She feels trapped between a surly teenage daughter, Neal Grace, and an aging live-in mother who requires her careful attention. On the family bookcase is an ivory porcelain "wishing jar," an heirloom that's purported to work its magic for those with deep yearnings. Abby, Neal Grace and Granny Q all long for change, and their wishes become the axis around which the story spins. The novel, in three parts, starts strongly, then slips into a time travel sequence that is fairly imaginative, but weakens the narrative and slows the pace. The multigenerational relationships of women are always good fodder for fiction, yet some of Stokes's plot elements (death by drunk driver, a hospital scene turning point and an unwed teen pregnancy) are hackneyed motifs in evangelical fiction. Stokes's established readers will feel a sense of dj vu, though her prose is smooth as butter. One wonders what Stokes might be capable of should she stretch her wings and risk a little bit more. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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