Reviews

 

With talk of military homecomings in the air, it’s a relevant moment for the arrival of “Cementville,” an ambitious contemplation of grief, violence and the aftermath of war in a tiny Southern town. . . . . With nods to not only Dickens but Nathaniel Hawthorne and Shirley Jackson too, Livers asserts the novel’s far-reaching intentions via her deployment of ornate, high-powered language. This thought-provoking debut wears its literary aspirations like a velvet funeral gown, calling attention to the grim legacies of combat and the changing realities of small-town U.S.A. As another bloody American entanglement staggers to a close, “Cementville” makes it clear that the consequences of warfare reverberate much further than on battlefields, for civilians as well as soldiers.

Atlanta Journal Constitution

Cementville is the story of a small Kentucky town in 1969, facing the return of the bodies of a group of local young men killed together in a firefight in Vietnam. The young men come from all kinds of families: the prominent Slidell family, the ne’er-do-well Ferguson clan, the solid Goins family. As scattered members of the town come home to pay their respects, their collective grief cracks open the walls of their reserve, allowing them to know each other as never before. . . . What is central and valuable is the depiction of a specific and near-forgotten way of life. Through her strongly drawn characters, Livers depicts a community drawing on its traditional strengths—kindness, respect, and practicality—to support each other through the very new challenges presented by war, trauma, and suspicion. This novel will be enjoyed by fans of Marilynne Robinson and of lyrical novels that depict the awesome inner struggles and resources of seemingly everyday people.”    —Booklist

“In Livers’s debut, it’s 1969, and seven young men from the most well-respected families of Cementville, Ky., are coming home from Vietnam in body bags. They had joined the National Guard in the hopes of avoiding real conflict, but war found them anyway. Also returning home is still-breathing Lt. Harlan O’Brien, the town’s former football star. Long, lyrical chapters explore the wounds wrought on those left bereft, but Livers ups the ante by putting a killer on the loose in the small town. And with townsfolk already on edge, mutual respect and tradition are replaced by fear and suspicion. Livers uses each chapter to explore a different facet of war and its aftermath. . . . The novel comes off as an atmospheric piece, a portrait of a traditional town on the brink of much change, whether welcomed or not.” —Publishers Weekly

“The arrival of dead soldiers from Vietnam in 1969 upturns and rewires the lives in a small Kentucky town. As Livers’ debut novel opens, the reputation of Cementville (pop. 1,003) has shifted from its namesake cement factory to something much more visceral: The arrival of the bodies of seven National Guardsmen who were killed in a firefight. The tragedy has sent the town into public displays of mourning, though as Livers shifts the story’s perspective among a host of residents, more complicated emotions emerge. . . . Livers explores the ways that perception and reality often fail to overlap in small-town life, and there are moments where the novel sings . . . An earnest and sober portrait of the home front.”   —Kirkus Reviews

“It’s 1969, and seven coffins and one injured former high school quarterback are returning to Cementville, Kentucky, from Vietnam, triggering widening ripples of deep consequence among the town’s stalwart, old-fashioned populace. … readers plunged into Livers’s gently paced evocation of a nearly forgotten time and place.”  —Elle magazine, Elle’s Lettres 2014 Readers’ Prize

“As the residents of a southern town brace for the burial of seven soldiers killed in Vietnam, a string of violent murders hits their streets, launching the community into emotional chaos. Some of my family members fought in Vietnam, so I know the heartbreaking side effects war can inflict on its survivors and their loved ones. Cementville could be any American town in 1969. The novel is a moving representation of the nation’s psychological state in that time of turmoil.” —Real Simple magazine

“It is rare to find an entire population rendered with the insight, clarity and tenderness that Livers brings to the people of Cementville in her richly intertwined narrative. Like a sculptor working in stone, she carves life-like characters from words and then delivers them a double whammy.” —Books in Brief

“[T]his is a novel that rewards the reader who can keep its diverse threads straight in her mind. Beautifully written and sensitively executed, it weaves the Vietnam era deftly into family stories and touches on the civil rights issues that still arouse strong feelings in Cementville’s population. . . . [I]t should gratify those who enjoy good prose and a complex interweaving of past and present. A promising debut.” —Historical Novel Society

“So much is lost in war, but we rarely allow ourselves to sit with that discomfort. Livers seems capable not only of guiding her reader though painful realizations, but also offering much needed doses of hope, humor, and insight along the way. … Cementville is a war novel, a Vietnam novel, a southern novel, but it is also a profoundly contemporary novel because it looks closely at the tension between community and individuality, which is a great American struggle that only seems to get harder with time. By taking her reader back to the Vietnam era, Livers manages to push us past the politics of the present and remind us that when a nation is at war, patience, understanding, and love are the most useful tools we have.  —Windy City Reviews


What Writers, Booksellers, and Readers Are Saying About Cementville

“1969 is often remembered as the summer of love, of Abbey Road and the flight to the moon. This book is about the realities of that time and by extension the realities we still live with. Unflinching and clear, and beautifully written, it manages to be what good books always are: a window into the true world, exhilarating and inspiring even as it faces into the dark.”  —Richard Bausch

“Paulette Livers is the real thing—a blazing talent with a fierce intelligence and a big heart, big enough to encompass a horrible tragedy and the inner life of an entire community. She has written a brilliant and deeply compassionate study of grief, violence, loneliness, and love. And her language sings. This is a stunning debut —a perfect novel with deep implications for our own time.”    —Lee Smith

Cementville gave me everything I want in a novel. The place and time period come alive on the page, the characters are as real as all the people I know best, and I’m still thinking about them and their stories even though I finished the book several days ago. This is just simply a beautiful novel, and it could only be written by someone with a very large heart. I’ll be recommending it to everyone. Paulette Livers has made me feel that special thrill that I’ve never gotten from anything but great fiction.”    —Steve Yarbrough

Cementville is a tremendous debut novel. How Paulette Livers is able to maintain her light touch while taking on the era of the Vietnam War—with its seismic worldwide effects—is nothing short of genius. With its beautiful, wounded characters, its startling insights into their private hearts, and frequent flashes of humor, this book is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long while.”    —Christine Sneed

Livers paints a compelling portrait of a small Kentucky town, with its tragedies, pleasures, and crimes, with its fallen heroes, its agoraphobics, and its young lovers. Her prose crackles as it traces the uneasy lives of the folks of Cementville.”    —Bonnie Jo Campbell

“Paulette Livers opens her characters’ experience, both physical and psychological, to the reader. A wealth of sense detail makes the far-flung worlds of the story—past/present; Vietnam/America; war/peace—utterly real. Things are not only seen, heard, smelled, touched, tasted; they are felt. Filtered through the characters’ perceptions, each detail simultaneously delivers both the external world and the characters’ inner lives. Like a potter at her wheel, one hand inside the growing vessel and one hand outside, Livers builds a beautifully structured tale. The finished shape contains both love and loss, with compassion for all concerned.”    —Ann Harleman

Cementville is an electrifying and beautifully written novel that relates the story of a small Kentucky town and its inhabitants as they live through the tempestuous Vietnam war years.  Relationships between families, siblings, and neighbors are masterfully and empathetically described by a writer who takes the reader on an emotional ride through the lives of 20th century Americans.  This surprising gem of a novel is a symphony—where the movements gel and crescendo into an intense and moving reading experience. Bravo!”   —from Indies First bookseller, Santa Barbara CA

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