Thirsty: A Novel
by Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

Swallow Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-804-01123-5.
Reviewed by Judy Miller
Posted on 11/09/2009

Fiction: Historical; Fiction: Literary; Fiction: Mainstream

"In the beginning, Drago smelled of dirt and bloom, the odor that would rise if you peeled the earth back at its seams. When he appeared on the doorstep of her father's farmhouse in Croatia on the first anniversary of her mother's death, Klara was sixteen and grateful that the mourning period for her mother had finally ended. At sunrise that very day, for the first time in a year, she had put on the pale green skirt that lit her eyes instead of the black one that highlighted only her grief."

Debut novel Thirsty, by Kristin Bair O'Keeffe, opens with these powerful sentences and continues to deliver through the final word. Thirsty, the turn-of-the-century gritty Pennsylvania steel town where the story takes place, is as much of a character as protagonist Klara Bozic. Husband Drago and best friend Katherine, along with other finely developed supporting characters—the Button Man, Benjo, and Old Man Rupert, add to this intelligent, poignant and well-written novel.

Thirsty follows Klara through forty years of cruel circumstances as she leaves her abusive father in Croatia to marry and live in America with an abusive husband. The cycle continues when Sky, Klara's daughter, marries an abusive man. Klara's story is one of hope, resilience and grace. The arrival of angelic butterflies in the dreary town is just one unlikely event that helps to sustain Klara's spirit as she struggles to find a way to break the cycle of domestic abuse.

Bair O'Keeffe doesn't turn away from the pain or oppression, but addresses it head on with grace, and honesty. Her writing is deep, powerful and vivid. Although the story revolves around domestic abuse, it is not a downer, but a story of hope, survival and peace. A must read.

Kristin Bair O'Keeffe's articles and essays have been published in Poets & Writers Magazine, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Baltimore Review, San Diego Family Magazine, The Gettysburg Review, and elsewhere. Her column—The Fiction Writing Workshop—appears monthly in the popular ezine Writers on the Rise. In 2008, her work was translated into Chinese and published in China's most popular weekly news magazine, Oriental Outlook Weekly, and she is featured in the Bylines 2009 Writers' Desk Calendar. With a B.A. in English and journalism from Indiana University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago, Kristin has always combined her love of writing with teaching. Kristin lives in Shanghai, China, with her husband and daughter. Visit her website.

Check out our interview with the author of Thirsty.

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