Review

In the Hope of Rising Again

by Helen Scully



Regina Riant is the apple of her father's eye. Colonel Riant is a
Civil War hero (whose war record grows more impressive as time goes
by) and a prominent Mobile, Alabama businessman and philanthropist.
He treasures his only daughter and indulges her every wish,
teaching her to read and ride a bike, taking her out of school for
shopping and adventures. Her father's death is but the first in a
series of tragedies that come to define Regina's life in this
ambitious, if slightly uneven, debut novel by Helen Scully.

As with many Southern Gothic novels, IN THE HOPE OF RISING AGAIN is
filled with quirky, larger-than-life characters. In addition to
Colonel Riant himself, there's the mysterious Ahlong, the MIT
student who is the subject of Regina's first passionate (if
somewhat unlikely) romance. There are Regina's four older bachelor
brothers, dilettantes who squander the family fortune on
harebrained schemes and ill-advised "improvements" to the family
home. There's the acerbic Mother Riant (whose given name is also
Regina), a formidable presence who rules her sons' lives by
imposing endless rules and assigning mindless errands. And then
there's Charles, Regina's husband, who grows increasingly
unbalanced as he is unable to cope with the tragedies that Regina
meets with aplomb.

Two calming influences enable Regina to deal with her family's
unpredictable fortunes: her devout Catholicism and her remarkably
egalitarian friendship with her black maid, Camilla. Camilla is
full of common sense and skepticism about this wealthy family ---
although she laughs about Regina behind her back, she also develops
a genuine fondness and respect for the woman, especially once
Regina becomes a mother herself. Camilla reflects, "Every girl baby
needs two mothers, a black one and a white oneā€¦. Motherhood
is one place where love is free, and the only place between black
and white where free things got thrown back and forth in equal
amounts."

The introduction of promising, likeable characters like Camilla and
Colonel Riant doesn't always hold up as the novel progresses,
though --- even Regina's character seems increasingly stiff and
flat as time goes on. The plot can also seem like little more than
a series of tragedies --- personal, emotional and financial ---
that can bog down the reader as much as they torment these
unfortunate characters. The unlikely resolution also does little to
make the novel seem realistic and multi-dimensional. Despite these
weaknesses, though, first-time novelist Scully's prose shows
promise, and there are bright spots, such as the moving scene in
which Regina, torn by grief, finds solace in preparing a meal
alongside Camilla in the servants' kitchen.

Time moves forward quickly and somewhat unevenly in this novel ---
with a span that covers the Civil War to the Great Depression,
whole years and decades are sometimes lost in the intervals between
chapters. Rather than explicitly giving the date, the author gives
the reader well placed hints that mark the narrative's passing
years. As time passes steadily forward (and sometimes backward),
the result is an impressionistic portrait of an early twentieth
century Southern woman --- and, by extension, of the South
itself.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 24, 2011

In the Hope of Rising Again
by Helen Scully

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The
  • ISBN-10: 1594200254
  • ISBN-13: 9781594200250