Kate Vaiden (1986)

by Reynolds Price

Kate Viaden is a leaver. She leaves the aunt and uncle who raised her, the cousin who offered her a home, her infant child and his father. She is an unusual woman in that she appears not to be driven by guilt or obligation. Feisty and independent, Kate is not the stereotypical female of her time and place, the 1940s’ rural South.

Kate narrates her life story without excuses or regret. Why is she the way she is? Maybe because of her parents’ murder-suicide when she was 11 and, a few years later, the death of her first love in the military. These tragedies may have made Kate fear commitment, so she leaves before she is left. Yet Kate is not an unloved orphan. Her aunt and uncle raise her with great affection. There is always someone to rescue Kate when she runs off, from her cousin to a cab driver to a former teacher.

After 40 years of silence, Kate, following a cancer diagnosis, decides she wants to communicate with her family, especially her son. Is she believable? Readers will decide for themselves, but there’s no doubt she is interesting. She is also likable — and it isn’t easy for an author to make a mother who abandoned her child likable.

Published in 1986, Kate Vaiden won the National Book Critics Circle Award.


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