January 2003
Going to Bend

Hammond's debut novel about two thirtysomethings struggling to get by in an isolated Oregon beach town feels at first like a working-class weeper, the sort of female buddy story that Oprah's fans would love. Lurking between the Kleenex, though, is something considerably more subtle. As she follows the constricted lives of Rose and Petie, soup makers for a cafe called Souperior, Hammond offers a nuanced look at the strains of daily life in a world of diminished possibilities. Rose and Petie live on a different planet from their employers, twins from California who can't understand why their trendy eatery holds no allure for the hard-bitten locals. The common ground is pain, and gradually these very different characters unlock for one another a kind of hard-won courage. What makes the novel work is the details: Petie and Rose "picking crabs" ("the only sounds were the cracking of shells and cartilage and the sucking, wet sound of meat being extracted"). Yes, the novel ends with the possibility of new lives, but what lingers here is the unflinching look at dailiness. —Bill Ott
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