Early loss, and how it reverberates for decades in the lives of those who experience it, is the subject of Jill McCorkle's pensive Hieroglyphics. After more than 60 years of marriage, octogenarians Lil and Frank Wishart abandon their lifelong home in Massachusetts to move to Southern Pines, N.C., to be close to their daughter. Frank, a retired college professor with a particular interest in ancient burial practices, and Lillian, who ran a dance studio, are united by tragedy. In Lil's case, it's the death of her mother in the fire at Boston's Cocoanut Grove night club in November 1942 that claimed 492 victims, when Lil was 10. Frank suffered the loss of a parent at the same age: his father was killed in a December 1943 train accident--another real-life event.

Shelley Lassiter and her six-year-old son, Harvey, round out the foursome of characters from whose points of view McCorkle tells her story. Abandoned by Harvey's father, Shelley works as a court reporter in Southern Pines. Harvey, born with a cleft lip, is a sweet boy who has developed a fascination with murderers like Lizzie Borden and the Menendez brothers, and who insists to Shelley that their house--the same one where Frank went to live after his father's death--is haunted.

McCorkle (Life After Life) unobtrusively braids the stories of these characters, gently revealing how the traumas of Lillian and Frank's early lives indelibly shaped their perspective on the world, while subtly connecting Frank's story with that of Shelley and Harvey. McCorkle's storytelling skill almost gives the impression she's simply eavesdropping on her character's lives. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

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