Nuclear family portrait skips myths

By Keri Hayes

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Many of us grew up on retro-sitcoms like "Happy Days" and "Leave it to Beaver," entranced by the adventures of the tightly controlled, forcibly happy families of the '50s. What we did not see were the real implications of mothers struggling to fill societal roles and fathers making shaky business ventures with an eye for a bigger slice of the pie.

Elizabeth Evans puts a seemingly typical '50s family on center stage in her new novel The Blue Hour, where the tragedy of a consumer-driven society plays itself out among family members.

Life takes a dangerous turn for the Powell family in 1959 when they move from a small town to Meander, Illinois, where Bob Powell becomes an absent father and a distant husband as he throws himself into opening a door factory. The female Powells are left to make their way into the high-strung social circles of a metropolitan town.

With a house previously owned by town mogul Chan Bishop, and chic neighbors ready to assist with interior decorating and dieting, Dotty Powell transforms from an insecure domestic-looking wife to an amphetamine-addicted adulteress.

Teenage daughter Nancy finds her sexual freedom and anorexia easy to hide from her overly self-conscious mother.

But it is all balanced out by the narrator, a sometimes young and sometimes mature Penny Powell.

Penny is poignantly exposed to the realities of adult life as she discovers the real explanations for her mother's strange behavior and her father's instability as a breadwinner. Dotty's futile attempts to have the entire family coddle and revere Bob comes to a final, climactic head as Penny discovers "there are no safe places in the world."

A young girl's painful efforts to understand and be accepted by her female role models are brought to the surface in Evans' stunning novel.

Penny is told that "when you grow up, you find out that now the world thinks you're the witch, even though you used to be the princess."

Penny is able to make sense of her family's tragedies as she grows older and realizes that the strict patriarchal rules governing society in the '50s forced her mother and father to lead their lives the way they did.

Elizabeth Evans graduated with a master's degree from the University of Iowa's fiction writing program, and has won numerous awards for her writing. She is currently on sabbatical from her position as an English professor at UA, where she has taught for seven years. The Blue Hour is Evans' first novel; she has also published Locomotion, a short story collection. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary magazines.

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