The Jailing of Cecelia Capture by Janet Campbell Hale (Random House: $15.95)
Earnestness may be the hardest quality to evaluate in a novel, because one wants so to like what is earnest and sincere. "The Jailing of Cecelia Capture" is an immensely earnest novel marred by old-fashioned, soap-operaish movement through time and space (flashbacks are routinely cued by something in the present that directly suggests the past event, without subtlety, dream-logic or sensual association), stodgy and uninteresting language, and a literal-mindedness that seems to work hard to flatten the characters rather than bring them to life. The last is most damning, because the main character, Cecelia, whose memories and emotions we should feel powerfully, becomes an automaton programmed by the author to make certain points rather than a real being whom we believe in.
Cecelia Capture is a 30-year-old Native American woman who has lived through a poverty-stricken, dismal childhood on and off reservations, the birth of an illegitimate child at 16, the death of that child's father in Vietnam and marriage to a phony liberal, to finally fulfill her grandfather's dream for her father: She attends Boalt Law School and is a successful student, though her fellow students view her as oddly detached, unapproachable. To stay in this prestigious law school, she has allowed her husband and two children to move away from her; she has had sexually degrading affairs; she drinks too much. And she winds up, on the evening of her birthday, in jail in Berkeley for drunk driving.