BOOK REVIEW IN BRIEF / Graced Land - Laura Kalpakian: Constable, pounds 13.99

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The Independent Culture
Miss Emily Shaw, young, pretty and educated, with wealthy parents and a big engagement ring, is doing a little light social work in St Elmo, California - 'the armpit of the nation' as her dinner party friends describe it. Though a member of a sorority, she knows nothing about sisterhood or love or life until she meets Joyce Jackson, her friend, Sandee, and her sassy teenage daughter, Cilla.

Joyce (born Rejoice) has exchanged the poor white's traditional consolation of religion for a life made rich by the music of Elvis Presley. Elvis died to redeem humanity, in Joyce's view - and if he ended his days a bloated addict, well, that was his Calvary. Joyce has kept rock 'n' rolling in the face of all the disasters that existence in St Elmo has to offer, and she is therefore a thorn in the ample flesh of Large Marge Mason, Emily's supervisor at the Welfare Department.

Emily's job is to run regular checks on Joyce's home to make sure that she is as manless and as moneyless as she claims. But after a single night down at the Cask and Cleaver, swilling beer bought on undeclared income and sweating to the beat, Emily Shaw discovers Burning Love.

If the message of Graced Land is fairly obvious, its fictional presentation is warm and funny, as full of vitality as a downtown dancehall when the King was at the height of his powers. What a shame that its cover is about as eye-catching as a dishcloth.

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