<B>A Southern family's fading fortunes</B>Regina Angela Riant, the heroine of Helen Scully's first novel, <B>In the Hope of Rising Again</B>, is the fifth child and only daughter born to Colonel and Regina Riant, prominent citizens in turn-of-the-century Mobile, Alabama. The favorite of her father, a colorful Civil War hero who was lucky enough not only to survive the war unscathed but also to marry well and fall into great wealth, young Regina is well educated, beautiful, devout and indulged in every way. Yet it's soon clear that Regina's early privileges are no buffer against hardships to come: a troubled marriage, a dying child, the onset of the Great Depression and worse. It's as if the Colonel's good fortune in life is destined to be repaid by his daughter, in a story that's almost Dickensian in its downward spiral of misery. The novel begins with Regina's marriage to a delicately handsome man named Charles Morrow, who whisks her away to Choctaw Bluff, Alabama, where he has a fledgling lumber company. But almost overnight, the sensitivity that first drew her to Charles spirals into full-fledged depression. Pregnant, miserable in Choctaw Bluff and unnerved by Charles' growing moroseness, Regina persuades him to return with her to Mobile. Here, Scully weaves suspense out of lurking disaster.
With the Colonel now deceased, the remaining Riants are held together by name and money but little else. Regina's mother is bitter, obsessed with her sons but resentful of her daughter. Regina's hard-drinking brothers are playing fast and furious with their collective inheritance. Charles abandons lumber for a series of short-lived entrepreneurial ventures. Regina sees the family flying into ruin and is powerless to stop it. But then, to paraphrase Tolstoy, happy families are all alike and the unhappy ones make better stories. So it is in Scully's impressive debut novel, which starts slow but then takes you by surprise with its rich detail and idiosyncratic characterizations. Scully makes a tragic journey thoroughly compelling, while allowing just enough hope for redemption to sustain Regina, and her readers, along the way. <I>Rosalind S. Fournier writes from Birmingham, Alabama.</I>