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 Fiction Review   

Bear Me Safely Over
By Sheri Joseph
Atlantic Monthly, 2002
Hardcover $23.00 (259pp)
ISBN: 0-87113-841-7

Sheri Joseph's Bear Me Safely Over deftly straddles the new south and the old south. Her characters have spent most of their lives in Greene County, but they still understand the seduction of Athens and Atlanta.

Two Georgia families find their lives and destinies intertwined when Sidra and Curtis become involved. Sidra's family is ostensibly fractured by her father's purchase of  yet another horse for his spoiled elder daughter. The truth of the matter is -- it's easier to blame the family's demise on one small action than talk about her younger sister's descent into drugs, prostitution, and death from AIDS. Sidra and Florie, her mother, who were once willing participants in the area's mores now spend most of their time on the family farm.

Curtis hasn't lived with his mother, step-father, or step-brother Paul in years, yet he's still a volatile presence in the household. Curtis is uncomfortable with Paul's gayness while Paul is desperate for Curtis's approval. Curtis, a musician, sees himself as a "man's man" and doesn't understand why women are drawn to Paul. The more Paul explores his sexuality, the more uncomfortable Curtis becomes, reacting with disgust and rejection.

Sidra and Curtis are inexplicably drawn to one another. On the night Curtis plans to break up with Sidra, he finds himself proposing to her instead. Sidra, hoping to force Curtis into living up to his finer nature, befriends and protects Paul from Curtis. Her fierce maternal impulses toward Paul bring the families together in surprising ways.

Joseph handles the book's themes -- loss, homophobia, families reinventing themselves, and religious fundamentalism -- with subtlety and assurance. Her characters, no longer religious but deeply spiritual, reach a kind of salvation by the book's end.


Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews


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