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Sing Them Home


Sing Them Home

Stephanie Kallos first garnered critical attention and popular
acclaim for her debut novel, BROKEN FOR YOU, published in 2004. In
SING THEM HOME, her second work of fiction, she returns to her
themes of family conflict, long-held secrets and the changes
wrought by death, while broadening her scope to explore these
themes in the context of a truly unique fictional town, Emlyn
Springs, Nebraska.

Emlyn Springs, located in southeast Nebraska near Lincoln, is a
town where the dead seem very near, even to the living. The empty
businesses along Main Street remind the town's dwindling population
of its former prosperity, of shop owners and merchants now gone.
Emlyn Springs keeps their dead close by honoring them in an unusual
way, inspired by the town's overwhelmingly Welsh heritage. In a
week of silence and song, they usher the newly dead into their new
way of being, which (unbeknownst to the living) is far more
observant and active than one might expect.

Given the town's dedicated method of honoring the dead, it's not
surprising that those who have gone before are on people's minds.
With no one is that more true than Hope Jones, the wife of the
town's physician (don't call him a doctor --- the language is
imprecise). Hope, the mother of three children, was carried off by
a tornado in the late 1970s. Her body was never found, and her
disappearance has created a troublesome rift in the lives of her
three children, now grown by the time of the novel's opening,
brought back together in Emlyn Springs by the sudden death of their

Oldest sibling Larken now lives in Lincoln, where she's on the
art history faculty of the University of Nebraska. Shortly after
her mother's death, teenaged Larken overcame her grief and
confusion by sleeping with anyone who would have her. Since then,
she has found solace in food, but no matter how much she eats, she
is still empty inside. Middle sibling Gaelan also lives in Lincoln,
where he's the celebrity weatherman (not meteorologist) on a local
television news station. Gaelan fills his days with bodybuilding
and his nights with a series of meaningless one-night stands with
beautiful women. But none of them can hold a candle to the love of
his life, his high school sweetheart from Emlyn Springs.

Youngest sibling Bonnie gained infamy in the same tornado that
carried off her mother, gaining the nickname "Flying Girl" because
she was carried up on her bicycle and deposited gently in the
branches of a precariously placed tree. Since then, Bonnie has
become increasingly eccentric, performing a series of odd jobs and
cruising the back roads around Emlyn Springs looking for
"artifacts," some of which seem to point back to her long-gone

Just as she remains a fixture in her children's lives (and in
the life of Viney, her best friend and her husband's long-time
mistress), Hope also plays a starring role in the novel, as
passages from her diary as a young wife and mother are interspersed
with chapters that take place 25 years after her death. As Hope's
three children, brought together again by the passing of their
father, experience radical transformations in their lives, the
reader also learns of the complicated, messy, secret history behind
Hope's life --- and death --- in Emlyn Springs.

SING THEM HOME is a sensitive, deeply perceptive portrayal of a
family in transition. Kallos has a keenly observant eye, which she
uses to comment obliquely on academia, celebrity culture and
small-town politics. She also seems to have a genuine affection for
and understanding of small towns like Emlyn Springs; although she
acknowledges their shortcomings, she also values their traditions.
Kallos serves as a wry but knowledgeable tour guide to the world
she has created. By the last page, readers will feel like they've
become not only honorary members of the Jones family but also vital
members of the Emlyn Springs community.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 23, 2011

Sing Them Home
by Stephanie Kallos

  • Publication Date: January 6, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
  • ISBN-10: 0871139634
  • ISBN-13: 9780871139634