Set amid the woodsy affluence of Northern California, Iron Shoes is the coming-of-middle-age story of 40-year-old Kay Sorensen. This haunting debut novel is about one woman's painful search for identity and meaning following her family's disintegration.
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Marooned in a loveless marriage and on the cusp of a full-blown midlife crisis, Kay Sorensen hardly needs the additional grief of tending to a dying parent. Tribulations compound however: as she frets over her manipulative and fading mother, Ida, she must also reckon with her father's indifference, her husband's insufficiencies, and--she fears--her own squandered potential. Such is the treacherous and often bitterly comedic territory Molly Giles wanders in her first novel, Iron Shoes, where the Northern California semi-serenity fails to allay one family's apparent disintegration.
As Kay puts in her part-time hours paging at the local library, she ponders her as-yet-undiscovered true calling and indulges fantasies of an affair. It's almost a relief to be distracted from her immobilizing frustrations by her mother's decline. Full of bitter and contentious self-pity, Ida trudges downward gracelessly. Her death provokes ever-worsening pangs of self-doubt in Kay, as she and her condemnatory father fumble to make sense of their relationship. Kay is pushed toward both revelation and decision: "If you can clean up the mess outside then maybe the mess inside will straighten out too," she opines. It's the "maybe" that muddles her tidy formula.
Iron Shoes is alternately sobering and breezy as Giles moves from the more unpleasant inevitabilities of Kay's world to the often absurd stratagems of family reconciliation. An ensemble cast enlivens things as well: Kay's sexy and audacious friend Zabeth counsels her and--just maybe--is coming on to her father, and her husband Neal is obsessed with a healthful diet but forgetful even of how many years he and Kay have been married. If at times the heroine's travails seem something of a caricature of fortysomething despair, Giles picks up the slack with a few well-placed narrative sleights of hand. Throughout, Kay's bafflement at other people's apparently well-manicured lives rings at perfect pitch. --Ben GutersonAbout the Author:
Molly Giles teaches creative writing at the University of Arkansas. She has won several short fiction awards, including the Flannery O'Connor Award, the Boston Globe Award, and the Small Press Best Fiction Award.
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