Cover image for Small victories
Small victories
Bingham, Sallie.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Zoland Books, 1992.
Physical Description:
298 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


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Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Never was there such a devoted sister. Louise has taken care of Shelby for more than 40 years, despite the efforts of her cousin Big Tom (a successful politician) to institutionalize her. Childlike Shelby--who is unpredictable and pitches fits when medicated and suffers fits when not--is an embarrassment to the family name. But when Louise explores the family's history a little further, through letters she's found and letters she writes to Young Tom, Big Tom's only remaining child, the past is shown to be a series of cover-ups and denials that extends uneasily into the present. Effectively switching viewpoints--from Louise to Young Tom--Bing~ham portrays a dysfunctional southern family at its worst, where the appearance of love is more important than love itself. As Louise points out, "There isn't much sap in this family anymore. There isn't much juice." Interest in the novel is sure to be heightened by the author's autobiographical Passion and Prejudice [BKL D 1 88], a nonfiction portrayal of her own, considerably more upscale, but still dysfunctional southern family. ~--Eloise Kinney

Publisher's Weekly Review

Southern gothic touches lace this dark, portentous story of family lies revealed and grievances redressed. In Passion & Prejudice , Bingham described the bitter conflicts that beset several generations of her own family, which owned the Louisville Courier-Journal . She sets this, her second novel, in a small North Carolina town circa 1958. Louise, the elder of two middle-aged sisters, quietly cares for childlike Shelby, who suffers unpredictable seizures and emotional storms. Baffled and embarrassed by Louise's refusal to put Shelby in an institution, their beloved cousin Big Tom, a state senator, forces her hand. While casting about for ways to free Shelby, Louise tries mightily to strip emotional blinders from the eyes of Big Tom's tormented son, a Harvard sophomore heading for a nervous breakdown. Bingham's skills are intermittent: she is capable of communicating bone-deep truths, but spoils them through florid overwriting. Louise's letters to Young Tom tell of too many hushed-up family tragedies, teasing out a multigenerational skein of insanity. Throughout, Bingham harps on repellent sights and smells, evoking--then exaggerating--palpable decay beneath seemingly smooth surface appearances. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The inability to connect with others, loneliness among the privileged classes, and the pain of concealed truths within families are Bingham's dominant themes. The focus of the story shifts from middle-aged Louise, who wishes only to live out her days in the once-fine family home caring for her mentally disabled sister Shelby, to their young cousin Tom, an excruciatingly sensitive and self-conscious college student who has difficulty making friends and adjusting to life away from home. Tom's father, a state senator, insists that Shelby, who occasionally lapses into embarrassing fits, be institutionalized. Louise attempts to obtain her release. Bingham writes evocatively of the South and the paralysis of unmet psychological needs. Her style is reminiscent of Eudora Welty, yet some confusing details in the story detract from the novel's impact. An optional purchase.-- Sheila Riley, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, D.C. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.