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Originally published January 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 8, 2009 at 10:15 AM

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Book review

Seattle author uses theme of family in tale of lost souls, "Sing Them Home"

Seattle author Stephanie Kallos, whose novel "Broken for You" was a book-club favorite, returns with "Sing Them Home," the story of three Nebraska siblings grappling with the loss of both parents. Kallos reads Wednesday at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Stephanie Kallos

The author of "Sing Them Home" will read at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co. Co-presented with Hedgebrook. Free (206-624-6600; www.elliottbaybook.com).

Kallos will also appear at 4 p.m. today at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. For more information, go to www.WICAonline.com or call 800-638-7631.

"Sing Them Home"

By Stephanie Kallos

Atlantic Monthly Press, 560 pp., $25

Not since the Wizard of Oz has a tornado been used to such potent literary effect. In her new novel "Sing Them Home," Seattle author Stephanie Kallos sends a tornado ripping through Emlyn Springs, Neb., with physics-defying consequences. Hope Jones — mother of three, MS patient and wife to the town doctor — is swept up by the whirlwind in 1978 and apparently never comes back down, though the townsfolk look long and hard for her.

"Sing Them Home" is about the people who have tried to put their lives back together after this incident. But Kallos uses the past as prologue, and in Chapter One dives right into the next freak meteorological event to bedevil the family a quarter of a century later: Dr. Jones is struck dead on the golf course by a lightning bolt.

The Jones children, now grown, must reconvene in Emlyn Springs to bury their dad.

Kallos' first book, "Broken for You," was an engaging tale about unrelated individuals piecing together a surrogate family in a grand old home in Seattle. It became a best-seller and book-club favorite, perhaps reason enough for Kallos to revisit the theme of family in her second effort, and to employ a similar, mosaiclike storytelling treatment.

In "Sing Them Home," Kallos develops contrapuntal story lines for each of the Jones children. They're grown now, but still haunted by their mom's disappearance.

The two oldest siblings have moved to Lincoln. Larken is an art-history professor who has done well professionally, but who seeks inordinate solace in junk food.

Gaelan, the middle child, has become a TV weatherman. Like his siblings, he is single — short-term relationships are his preference.

Little sister Bonnie has never left their hometown. She is regarded locally as a gentle eccentric. She was swept up years before by the same tornado that took her mother, then found high in a tree hours later. Bonnie has continued to search the countryside in the years since, collecting bits of detritus as possible clues to her mother's whereabouts.

Back in Emlyn Springs there is a fourth person grieving, as well. Viney Closs was Dr. Jones' nurse and mistress for decades. She had been a close friend of Hope's, too.

Settling Dr. Jones' affairs is no small matter. Emlyn Springs was founded by Welsh settlers, and maintains the Old World tradition of a weeklong mourning period that shuts down the town. The capper is a 72-hour round-the-clock community singalong, in Welsh, to help the departed spirit move on to the next world.

But what will help his children to figure out how to move on in their lives?

Kallos performs ample wizardry in blending both tears and quirky humor in this tale of lost souls. She uses Hope Jones' diary entries, made as a bride and young mother, as the chronological warp of events, then shuttles back and forth in time to weave together different characters' perspectives on love and loss.

Dorothy may have thought that there's no place like home, but what happens when there's no house left at the old address, and no real parent figure to go home to? The Jones siblings take a further step down the road to enlightenment: They learn that home is where the heart is.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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