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The Sabbathday River

ISBN-10: 978-0374253233
Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux
Publication Date: April 1999

THE SABBATHDAY RIVER combines elements of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER and some real life events from an obscure (unless you happened to be living in Ireland in the 1980s) murder case known as the Kerry Babies Affair. The novel is set in New Hampshire in the 1980s, and begins as transplanted New Yorker, Naomi Roth, finds the body of an infant in the nearby Sabbathday River. THE SABBATHDAY RIVER was a main selection of the Book of the Month Club in 1999.

Reviews

  • The Wall Street Journal

    Ms. Korelitz has delivered a page-turner here--absorbing weekend or vacation reading for those in the mood for a suspenseful morality tale.
  • Rosellen Brown

    What a rich and satisfying novel this is! It's a sophisticated look at the casually deployed but deep-seated assumptions by which women are judged, and not only in small towns like the one Jean Hanff Korelitz knows so well. This compelling story of loss and longing, written with great sympathy and intelligence, is fueled by sex, class, mystery, and terrific courtroom theater.
  • Publishers Weekly

    When Naomi Roth pulls the body of a stabbed infant girl from the Sabbathday River, she precipitates an investigation that devastates the small New Hampshire town she hoped to save. Smart and engrossing, this thriller addresses the complex morality behind its characters' behavior with gravity and deep humanity.▼ Read more
    Idealistic Vista volunteer and New York Jewish liberal in search of a cause, Naomi turns local crafts into a booming catalogue business by the mid-'80s but never quite fits into the tightly knit New England community whose secrets unravel as townsfolk point fingers - mostly at Heather Pratt, the proud and lonely girl who delicately embroiders traditional samplers and unapologetically bears the illegitimate child of a married man. Naomi sees little of the sisterhood she preaches among Heather's co-workers and neighbors, excepting only recent arrival Judith Friedman, a fellow Jewish New Yorker who befriends Naomi and defends the modern-day Hester in court. It turns out, however, that even Judith has her secrets. Korelitz (A Jury of Her Peers) traces the evolution of '60s idealism to '80s self-absorption, feminist vision to emotional chaos, religious devotion to moral decay. After the trial's dramatic climax, the reader is left with disturbing insights into the roots and ramifications of infanticide. Korelitz securely navigates the scientific shoals surrounding the crime. Her rich, often lyrical language occasionally becomes fussy but in general serves her well in conveying local color and atmosphere and in describing the moments of passion and betrayal in this compelling study of modern women with old-fashioned desires.
  • Kirkus

    The murder of an unidentified newborn baby prompts a group of women to reexamine their place on the scale ranging from cost-free political commitment on one end to intractable personal lives on the other.▼ Read more
    Set in the conservative small town of Goddard, New Hampshire, in the late 1980s, the story opens as Naomi Roth discovers a dead infant girl floating in the Sabbathday River near town. Naomi has established Flourish, a profitable cooperative of craftswomen, in the spirit of her 1960s-inspired liberalism. As an avid feminist, socialist, and atheist, then, she is outraged when the investigation into the murderled by duplicitous state prosecutor Charterselects Heather Pratt, a young, unconventional single mother, as its main suspect. When Naomi discovers another dead baby girl behind Pratt's housethis one actually HeathersPratt is charged with a double murder, and Naomi's astonishment curdles into rage at this patent injustice. Allied with Judith Friedman, an aggressive lawyer and, like Naomi, a transplanted New Yorker, Naomi assembles a defense for Heather that culminates in a suspense-filled trial that destroys Charter's case. Yet Naomi's notion of the political nobility of the defense is corrupted as Korelitz (A Jury of Her Peers, 1996) reveals the hidden motives underwriting the action of most of the players. Search not for a virtuous man here: except for the good womens lovers, the male species is generally freeloading, irresponsible, arrogant, and unreliable. Nonetheless, Korelitz plots so well, and writes her women so persuasively, that the story suffers only slightly from this lack of dimension. An often gripping account onto which Korelitz has grafted some minor themes concerning patriarchal exploitation, the role of faith and God, and the obstacles facing strong, sexually threatening women. If these dont burden the novel too badly, they do distract from a powerful tale of the tragic enigma of murdered children.