Review

The Absence of Nectar

by Kathy Hepinstall

Read an Excerpt



I noticed a phenomenon back in the early '80s, when divorces began
sprouting on the American landscape like dandelions after a spring
shower. Divorced men with children would disappear out of their
children's lives, become involved with divorced mothers with
children and assume the role of fatherhood in the stead of a
similarly absent father. There were --- and are --- many reasons
for this; the end result, regardless, was that it appeared, from
the viewpoint of one outside of this quiet madness, as if there was
some huge game of paternal musical chairs occurring, with the
children, as unwilling participants, ultimately losing after every
round.

THE ABSENCE OF NECTAR, the second novel by the quietly blossoming
and already brilliant Kathy Hepinstall, is, among many other
things, an understated commentary on this situation. Well before we
learn that the father of Alice and Boone, and husband of Meg, has
left them all for the charms and comforts of the woman across town,
Hepinstall introduces us to Simon, who, when the music stopped,
Alice and Boone found seated at their table, full of a dangerous
and unpredictable anger, an invited interloper whose actions
ultimately prompt Meg to come, unexpected and unbidden, into their
room one night to whisper, apropos of everything, "Run." But THE
ABSENCE OF NECTAR only begins here.

I have never met Kathy Hepinstall; the impression I get from a few
eMails (and I could be way off here) is that she probably
went through high school with above average academic achievements
and reasonable popularity, but was quiet and often lost in the
crowd. I have no doubt that at least some of the people who shared
classes with her are shaking their heads in amazement, wondering if
this same woman who sat behind them in math class and never said a
word all semester, could possibly be the author of her previous THE
HOUSE OF GENTLE MEN and this new, quiet but stunning wild night's
ride. Hepinstall works like the best of today's contemporary jazz
musicians, like Roland Guerin with a word processor or Christian
Howes with a dictionary --- what isn't played, or said, is often
just as important as what is. Hepinstall has not just learned this
lesson, nor has she merely mastered it; she has made narration by
implication such an integral part of her work that after only two
novels she is rapidly becoming the master from whom others can, and
should, learn the technique.

One of Hepinstall's (many) great strengths is that she has not
limited herself to a particular genre. While both of her novels
will certainly appeal to women, they are not by any stretch of the
imagination "chick books." While THE HOUSE OF GENTLE MEN was a
fantasy, it was also a mystery, a fable and, in some places, even
an action novel. Yet it spoke as deeply to answer the question most
asked by men, "What do women want?" as perhaps any contemporary
novel written. THE ABSENCE OF NECTAR is as couched in realism as
this morning's newspaper. When Meg invites Simon into her home, we
can understand why she does it, even as we scream "No!" because we
know Meg, we know her secret fears. We can also understand that a
man like Simon will be attracted to a woman like Meg (with the
converse holding true as well) in the same way in which lightning
will always seek the tallest object in an area to strike. We learn
all this, however, through the eyes of the children, who take all
of the right steps to remedy the situation. It is the adults,
ultimately, who fail. Until the end, anyway.

THE ABSENCE OF NECTAR, like THE HOUSE OF GENTLE MEN, is a
contemporary classic. This is a book that can be read over and
over, continuing to surprise with the simple effectiveness of its
language. I say this only after extensive field-testing. And as
good as THE ABSENCE OF NECTAR is, I have a feeling that
Hepinstall's best book has yet to be written.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 20, 2011

The Absence of Nectar
by Kathy Hepinstall

  • Publication Date: September 10, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0399148019
  • ISBN-13: 9780399148019