A first adult novel from screenwriter and author Ephron (The Girl Who Changed the World, 1993, etc.) blends satire and soap opera to portray three overachieving sisters and their deteriorating father. Special-events planner Eve Mozell's 81-year-old father is in a psychiatric hospital with the ``dwindles'' (dementia, loss of motor skills), bragging in his more lucid moments to anyone who will listen about Eve's more visibly successful sisters: magazine editor Georgia and actress Maddy. The old man came unhinged around the time their mother left him for a red-haired biology teacher, which prompted him to call Eve, then at college, and tell her weepily, ``She ran off with that redwood.'' As the three phone- addicted Mozell girls continued to chat their way through boyfriends and nascent careers, their hard-drinking father phoned them constantly and kept them off-balance with increasingly bizarre behavior, culminating in a disastrous marriage to a diet-pill- popping nurse he met in a mental hospital. Now he's dying, and though Eve wants him gone, she can't bear to let go. Finding her husband, Joe, insufficiently sympathetic, she becomes phone pals with Dr. Omar Kunundar, who ran into her son's car; soon, this velvety-voiced purveyor of nose jobs is the receptacle for her escapist fantasies. Dad's conditions worsen, and the three sisters converge to irritate one another over his comatose body. Some mini- insights swarm up through these busy goings-on, but the characters, with the exception of sweet, mild-mannered Joe, are both underdeveloped and annoying. When time comes for an emotional payoff, Ephron delivers an absurd and punch-line-dependent deathbed scene straight out of the land of sitcom. A steady dose of low-grade humor helps, but ultimately this portrait of a dysfunctional family cum telephone circle is only modestly affecting.
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