During The Reign Of The Queen Of Persia
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Joan Chase’s subtle story of three generations of women negotiating lifetimes of “joy and ruin” deserves its place alongside such achievements as Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine.
The Queen of Persia is in fact Gram, who presides over an Ohio farmhouse teeming with daughters, granddaughters, and the occasional son-in-law. For the youngest generation, the four girls who together narrate the novel, the farm is a kind of Eden, at once life-giving and the locus of terrible discoveries about desire and loss. The girls bicker and scrap, whisper secrets at bedtime, and above all watch as their mothers draft templates of womanhood that they will come to either reject or embrace. Ingeniously orchestrated in overlapping, thematic narratives, the story of Gram, her five daughters, and her grandchildren reveals itself through the accumulation of emotional truths, reaching its heights in the decline of Grace, whose eventual death from cancer is a loss felt throughout the book. Set in the 1950s and ’60s, During The Reign Of The Queen Of Persia is deeply rooted in its particular time and place, as the local, rural, and hardscrabble world the girls are born into remakes itself into a materially rich suburb, indistinguishable from so many others.