Just when you're sitting waist deep in oyster shells and about to give up hope of finding that elusive gem, voila!, you open one more and there it is a pearl, long envisioned in your mind's eye, yet breathtaking in its startling simplicity when you actually see it.

From the vivid imagination of Terry Kay, author of To Dance with the White Dog, comes a tale woven around a single element, much like a pearl forms around a grain of sand, and becomes something rare, lustrous, and painfully beautiful. Taking Lottie Home is woven around a sensual and mesmerizing young girl, Lottie Barton. Kay tells us in his author's note that Lottie was a minor figure in one of his early, unpublished manuscripts, but upon rereading it at the beginning of 1999 he realized he had found his grain of sand in the character of Lottie. But while this enigmatic young woman is at the heart of the book, it is her effect on others that propels the narrative forward. The people, particularly the men who come to know her, are moved and changed to such a degree that they alter the course of their lives to encompass her into their respective worlds. There is Ben Phelps, a young, serious-minded baseball player when he first meets her in 1904 on a train heading out of Augusta, Georgia. There is Foster Lanier, an older, former ball player who is torn by his desperate need for Lottie and his vow to return her to her home. And there are others. Kay entrances us with a story that grows outward, like a widening circle that keeps us wondering where and how it will all end. Taking Lottie Home is a novel about the early years of baseball, about traveling carnivals and cabin farms in the hills, about crushed dreams and persevering hope, about small town gossip and small town goodness, about lust and longing, and most of all, about love in its varied forms.

If there was ever a doubt that Terry Kay had another novel in him to equal To Dance with the White Dog, Taking Lottie Home should dispel that doubt and renew his reputation as a writer in whose skillful hands the simple becomes the surprisingly sublime.

Linda Stankard writes from her home in Cookeville, Tennessee.

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