Read Heat Lightning by Helen R. Hull Patricia McLelland Miller Online


Helen Hull was once a well-known American novelist and Heat Lightning, her sixth book, was a Book-of-the-Month Club Selection for April 1932. The plot is simple: Amy Norton comes home for a week’s visit to her hometown in Michigan (the town is unnamed but must owe a lot to Albion, where Helen Hull grew up): ‘Now that she was back in the town of her childhood, standing on aHelen Hull was once a well-known American novelist and Heat Lightning, her sixth book, was a Book-of-the-Month Club Selection for April 1932. The plot is simple: Amy Norton comes home for a week’s visit to her hometown in Michigan (the town is unnamed but must owe a lot to Albion, where Helen Hull grew up): ‘Now that she was back in the town of her childhood, standing on a corner across from the village triangle of green, a small pyramid of luggage at her feet, Amy’s one clear thought, over the fluttering of unimportant recognitions, was “Why on earth have I come?”’ Her husband has gone on holiday without her, her two children are at summer camp, and she is hoping to work out why she is unhappy. She looks with detached eyes at every member of the Westover family, all of whom live within striking distance of their old home; and, having been away for so long, is able to observe her female relations with fresh eyes and to see that ‘each of them lived true to her own code, without conflict or rebellion. And I – Amy moved restlessly – I don’t know what my code is.’ Yet, over the course of the sultry summer week, with flashes of lightning never far away, she starts to understand herself better and to have a new insight into the lives of her relations: the matriarchal ‘Madam Westover’ her grandmother; her parents Alfred and Catherine; her brother and sister Ted and Mary, who has just given birth to another child; and her aunt and her two unmarried children. As Amy comes to realise, the Westover family, into which ‘foreigners’ have married, is a microcosm of the larger society, each member with his own code, derived blindly from distant soil.’ The result, which is what Helen Hull is describing, is that ‘the individual has nothing firm upon which he can lean, nor has he even any definite way of life against which he can rebel: he is under the necessity of determining for himself how he shall act and think.’It is the summer after the Great Crash of 1929 and, as in so many Persephone books, everything happens and nothing happens; however, a book which is simply about family life turns out to be unputdownable. ‘Although Heat Lightning focuses on domestic life,’ writes the American academic Patricia McClelland Miller in her Persephone Preface, ‘it is, at its core, a novel of ideas, even though not all of the book’s readers would have recognised it as such.’ Indeed, the book with which most Persephone readers will compare it is Dorothy Whipple’s Greenbanks. ‘Like Dorothy Whipple, Helen Hull’s perception, her clarity of expression and her ability to tease out the quiet, unspoken thoughts and fears that ripple under the surface of each of our lives is magnificent,’ wrote Rachel of Book Snob, adding, ‘it takes true skill to rivet the heart and mind while remaining within the four walls of the family home, and I can’t praise Helen Hull’s abilities enough.’...

Title : Heat Lightning
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781903155912
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 328 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Heat Lightning Reviews

  • Rosemary
    2019-04-13 10:17

    It's 1930, and the Great Depression is starting to bite at the middle classes in America. Amy Norton's two kids are in camp and her husband has gone fishing - or has he? With marital insecurities in the back of her mind, she arrives in her home town where her grandmother is the grande dame of the small town, to find her parents and her grandmother caught up in the financial and emotional problems of her extended family.This forgotten novel was a delight. Amy is both an outsider and a player in the unfolding dramas, with grownup siblings and cousins married to all kinds of inlaws and almost everybody scrabbling for the limited pot of family money. It gives her a unique perspective, while at the same time, half of her mind is on her own problems back home in New York.

  • Ali
    2019-04-16 13:09

    Heat Lightning is a domestic American novel; set in an unnamed Michigan town, presumably reminiscent to the one Helen Hull herself grew up in. It is summer 1930, when Amy Norton arrives back in the town she grew up in, to stay for a week with her family. Her husband has gone on a fishing holiday, her two children are at summer camp, and Amy must work out what it is that is wrong with her marriage.Full review:

  • Amanda
    2019-04-25 12:21

    An interesting family drama. Well done, but a bit claustrophobic with the weather and social atmosphere. I also found Hull's writing style a bit jarring. At times it seemed a bit stream of consciousness in a spacially disorienting way.

  • Jane
    2019-04-03 09:04

    People whose opinion I respect have liked this book, and I was really eager to try it. It also had the advantage of being written by a Michigander. However, after plowing through 1/3 of it, I just had to give it up. I found the author's writing style to be what I would call awkward and the self-involved heroine annoyed me. Still, there were moments of beauty, evocative and lovely in a way that reminded me of days gone by in my Iowa childhood. What relaxed lives we lived then!

  • Grier
    2019-04-23 13:17

    I loved the characters and the problems they faced, the 1930 small town setting, and could feel and smell the sultry atmosphere. It was a bit too talky in parts and the weakest part was Amy's problem with her marriage which wasn't really made very clear. I wonder what Hull's other novels are like.

  • Bryan
    2019-03-29 16:01

    "Her name was Amy and she was sensible"- (c) Amy Cook re: Amy in Heat Lightning (and probably re: Amy Cook)

  • Kirsty
    2019-03-29 10:17

    Helen Hull’s sixth novel, Heat Lightning, was first published in 1932, and has recently been reissued by Persephone. According to the publishing house’s magazine, The Persephone Biannually, the idea for Heat Lightning came to the author when she read the following sentence in a magazine article: ‘Here in America we stem from many races, we have no homogenous roots, no common traditions’. The preface to the volume has been provided by Patricia McClelland Miller, who states that Heat Lightning is ‘at its core, a novel of ideas’. Miller’s informative writing shows the psychology of the characters, particularly of the novel’s protagonist, Amy. She states the way in which Amy is presented with ‘a dilemma common to many of Helen Hull’s characters: how can women flourish when they are expected to make most of the adjustments in situations which really require the efforts of both men and women?’The novel, set in 1930, begins with Amy Westover, a thirty five-year-old woman, who is returning to her Michigan hometown with ‘a small pyramid of luggage at her feet’. She spent her childhood in a fictional town named Flemington, which she has fled to once more to escape her unhappy marriage in New York. ‘They would all wonder why she had come,’ Hull writes, ‘where her husband Geoffrey was, – and the joke was that she didn’t know the answer’. Despite returning under the guise of resting after a tonsil operation, she admits to her grandmother in an early conversation, ‘Yes, I ran away, alone’. Amy is ‘too thin, too tense, head with dark fluff of hair strained forward… and the dark eyes gave back an anxious stare’. Throughout, memories of her past is woven in, and these come to light when particular senses are affected by what she sees and feels around her – for example, the smell of ‘hot vinegar and spices’ remind her of making pickles on hot summer mornings.A list of principal characters has been provided at the outset, ranging from our protagonist and her immediate family members to Charley Johnson, Amy’s grandmother’s former chauffeur. This list provides a useful reference point, as a lot of individuals are introduced in a kind of barrage in just a few pages. Whilst we learn rather a lot about Amy as the novel progresses, she still feels like a somewhat distant protagonist. We as readers are her overseers, and we are distinctly not part of her story. We watch her and her actions with mild interest, but there is a kind of barrier which Hull has erected which stops us from becoming too involved or too compassionate towards Amy. The other characters, too, are either not developed enough, or come across as superficial or cruel. Amy’s grandmother, for example, is incredibly judgemental of those around her, and is never scared of giving her often crude and bigoted opinions: ‘Curly doesn’t approve of immigration… No more do I. Too many foreigners. Too many right in our own family’.The novel deals with Amy’s struggle of how to behave in two entirely different places – one as a responsible wife and mother to the oddly named Buff and Bobs, and the other as a child herself to her parents, who are ‘so familiar, so foreign’. Amy says, when speaking about her tonsils, ‘They leave you melancholy when they go’, which could equally be a comment upon her children leaving for camp, or even metaphorically, with their growing up. She does seem to relax slightly when in her Michigan life, and one touching sentence describes the way in which ‘She took their good-night kisses, still their child’.Hull’s descriptions of place and weather are the definite strength of the novel. The summer is ‘tucked in at the horizon inescapably’, and the heat of the day was ‘wavering, full of unsteady motes’. Later on, the sun lays ‘metallic fingers at the roots of her [Amy’s] hair’. The writing style is very rich, but the conversations often feel a little stolid. Rather than providing a comment upon life in small-town America, Heat Lightning focuses upon family dynamics, and the family unit as a whole. It also presents a small insight into a relatively early twentieth century marriage, saying of Amy and Geoffrey, ”This past year their attitude toward each other had been a tight-rope on which she struggled, with painful, awkward contortions, to keep her balance. And Geoffrey – he had jiggled the tight-rope’.Heat Lightning is an important addition to the Persephone list in that it does deal with some growing issues which women faced in the early 1930s – for example, Amy’s disillusionment with her new life and her relationship with her husband, and her cousin Harriet’s lesbianism: ‘My cousin Harriet is awfully modern, isn’t she?’ The novel itself is well written, but the meandering storyline is difficult to engross oneself into, and the characters, even those we know the most about, are difficult to feel compassion for. A sense of momentum is never really gained, and the novel feels a little flat in consequence. It is worth reading for the writing style alone, but the characters are neither strong nor realistic enough to warrant as much love for this particular Persephone title as they are in almost all of the other books the firm publishes.

  • Maire
    2019-04-08 11:12

    Another winner from Persephone Classics! This forgotten treasure was my second favorite read of the summer. Helen Hull was a popular American author during the first half of the 20th century, but her work is largely ignored today. This is a shame, because the themes she explored in this novel, along with her exquisite prose, made this an absolute joy to read. The basic story revolves around a young woman who lives in New York City and has returned to rural-ish Michigan to visit her family at the cusp of the Depression. In this aspect, the book actually brought to mind a mash-up of Faulkner and Wharton. There were the weird antics of her unusual family members (like Faulkner), but the book is written in the accessible, old-fashioned, American family style of Wharton. To this day, I can't cut up a peach without remembering the grandmother in this book.

  • Amy Foster
    2019-04-06 08:01

    I can see why many people wouldn't necessarily be drawn to this book. It's small, introspective and a little old fashion given when it was written. But I loved it. As a mother I appreciated the protagonist's POV. I loved her take on motherhood. And, everyone's family is a little crazy right? This is a quiet book about going home to your parents when your life as an adult is not longer the black and white of your childhood. They say you can't go home again, but there is a sort of peace that you acquire when you embrace your roots. If you're looking for big action, or twisty plot lines, this isn't the book for you. But if you like a book to fall into and walk around inside of instead of burning through, you should read.

  • Amy
    2019-04-06 08:10

    Was there a new code? What, at the very bottom of her heart, did she believe in? Did it differ, fundamentally, from her grandmother's set of values? Courage, love, loyalty. The scene shifted, but there were no new virtues. Who needed any new ones?Amy has escaped vague marital problems in New York for the comforting environment of her childhood home in Michigan. Unfortunately for Amy, her visit home is not the relaxing escape she envisioned. As the heat bears down on the small Midwestern town, the family quietly implodes leaving Amy's poor father and mother (the most sensible of the bunch) to clean up the mess. Meanwhile, Amy tries to help smooth things over as best as she can, but she's wrestling with major issues of her own.Amy is struggling with who she is and how to be: she is a married mother, but she is deeply unhappy and dissatisfied but not exactly sure why. She seeks guidance from her female relatives because she's sure if she just learns the right rules, she will know how to behave. She muses on people's responsibilities and duties to one another particularly when they conflict with one's secret life and responsibility to be true to oneself. She wonders about the shifting nature of self, how it changes depending on your role as parent, child, spouse, or sibling. Even as Amy struggles to understand herself and what is important to her, she sees clearly the nature of her assorted family members, which in turn helps her clarify her own feelings and beliefs. This was really a lovely book and it was somewhat surprising but gratifying to see that not much has changed in terms of how we understand one another and ourselves since the book was written in 1932. Yes, there are some unpleasant antiquated bits: Italians are dismissed as a bunch of bootlegging immigrants; there isn't much understanding towards the mentally ill; the one lesbian in the novel is vindictive and unpleasant (though so are many other family members). But there were so many perfect little insights: "A lifetime's too short to find your way about another's heart, without blunderings and mistakes. That's why these folks nowadays are so foolish, rushing into marriage, out of it, into another. They never do anything but make a beginning, and then make the same beginning again. They think there's nothing else, besides that crazy excitement at the first.""It had been easier, she thought, to live when you knew exactly what you believed, what was right, what you and everyone else should do. But wasn't it ridiculous not to be sure where resentment should begin, not to know whether you were a selfish prig, or -- well, what? -- an injured woman?""You can't ever think out a person, coldly, separate from him, because you are different, yourself, when you are apart.""Perhaps love always ran that course. You loved a man, you lived with him, tried to make a sort of life with him, and you ceased to look at him except as he affected you...You responded to inflections of voice, to overtones, in terms of your own desires and failures. And the man you loved became a sort of scapegoat for the difficulties not in love, but in the whole business of living." I think the important point is that there isn't a set of rules for relationships; the essential thing is figuring out what works for you: the most admirable characters in the book (Amy's mother Catherine, Felice, Laurance, and even her grandmother) seemingly prioritize their spouses above their own needs and wants, but in the end, they remain truer to themselves than all the other characters in the novel and are ultimately happier.

  • Anne
    2019-04-23 10:02

    A thoughtful and astute observation of family, identity, love, marriage, betrayal, death... It is a shame that Hull has been forgotten by literary history and consigned to the long list of 'domestic' writers deemed irrelevant today. She writes about the simple, everyday dramas, petty jealousies, and delights of life in an engaging and unobtrusive style. This is a quiet book, but all the more powerful for that. It sags a little in the middle, but rewards the reader for persevering with some especially thought-provoking passages in the final third of the novel. I'd highly recommend it!

  • Ginny
    2019-04-21 09:02

    I'd give this 4.5 stars if it were an option. Author Helen Hull did a masterful job of evoking the feel of a quiet street in small-town America in the summer: you could practically feel the heavy muggy air, smell the flowers, hear the clink of ice cubes in tea. The family dynamics were intriguing and I loved the grandmother's character in particular (also loved the mother, and the grandma's loyal maid). The ending was slightly unsatisfying (I thought), hence the lack of a five-star rating, but overall it was an absorbing read and confirmed my adoration for Persephone Books and the fact that they bring these forgotten stories to new life.

  • Julie
    2019-04-26 13:22

    I think I found out about this novel from Persephone Books. A wonderful, albeit dated story of a wealthy Michigan family in the 30s. Amy comes back to visit from NYC, not bringing her husband and children. When the grandmother dies suddenly, the true colors of the family are shown. Will Amy's husband be found on his "camping trip" in time for the funeral? Why was the grandmother's will recently destroyed. I would not recommend this for most readers, but I loved the story and the somewhat dated language.

  • Suzie Fullmer
    2019-03-31 14:08

    A seemingly simple story about a woman who visits her hometown in Michigan for a week while she works through issues in her marriage. It shows how complicated family relationships can be with siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles when they all collide. Interesting that the only thing they have in common is blood. If not for that, they would most likely not have anything to do with each other. Full of powerful and insightful writing with truly complicated and interesting characters.

  • Hol
    2019-04-21 08:58

    I sought this from the library because Persephone is planning to republish it. At first I liked it very much, particularly its depiction of an adult visiting her family of origin (with all the provoking dynamics and regressive behavior that can entail), but at some point my interest waned, and it did not return.

  • Hol
    2019-03-31 15:19

    I sought this from the library because Persephone is about to republish it. At first I liked it very much, particularly its depiction of an adult visiting her family of origin (with all the provoking dynamics and regressive behavior that can entail), but at some point my interest waned, and it did not return.

  • Nicole
    2019-03-30 14:00

    Such complete characters and beautiful words. I wanted resolution for the characters, but I didn't want the book to end. I thought about how each generation has their dramatic time and the same mistakes get made over and over. It's all about how we respond...

  • Paula
    2019-04-12 13:16

    Love these books written by women and discovered and reprinted by Persephone of London. Even though this one was published in 1932, it still has a message for us today...

  • Susann
    2019-04-16 10:03

    Beginning was slow, but this eventually grew on me. Loved the grandmother and the line about, "hope fermented into frustration."