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GATHERING HOME <i> by Vicki Covington (Simon & Schuster: $17.95) </i>

“This is my father’s world, / I rest me in the thought / of rocks and trees, of skies and seas / His hand the wonders wrought.” This hymn, sung at church by most of the colorful characters in “Gathering Home,” reflects the warm and affirming spirit that pervades this novel. Vicki Covington has composed a moving tribute to our potential for gaining joy out of life, despite its many unknowns, and to her native Alabama, whose people she depicts as kind, traditional, and--despite our lingering 1960s memories--tolerant.

Covington’s spirit is exemplified by 18-year-old Whitney Gaines, the adopted daughter of Cal, a liberal urban minister who is running for Congress. Whitney is proud of her body (“She stepped out of her swimsuit and tried hard to avoid gazing at her bare, wonderful self in the mirror”), confident in mind (courting Nat, her father’s sharp, 30-ish campaign manager) and ultimately successful in overcoming her insecurities as an adopted child: “So what if she was rejected when she was two days old? It hadn’t happened since!”

Occasionally, Covington’s characters seem too sensitive, handling each other like porcelain. “We had a disagreement,” Nat says at one point. “I hope there weren’t any hurt feelings,” Cal responds typically. Also problematic is Covington’s attempt to present the Gaines family as a model of how to cope with stress, for they don’t so much deal with conflict as avoid it. Covington, who has a master’s degree in social work, keeps disappointment at arm’s length from Whitney, for instance, so even Cal’s loss in the congressional election becomes a kind of victory, enabling Whitney to hold onto her Alabama roots. For the most part, however, Covington achieves a believably upbeat tone with only a trace of saccharine, leaving readers with a warm feeling that lingers long after the book is closed.


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