Emotionally intense first novel about the impact of mental illness on a family, focusing on the relationship between two sisters. Three sisters grow up all but carefree in a happy suburban home, until Ellen—the youngest—remains behind when the others leave home. Lonely, she begins to retreat into fantasies that make her exquisitely vulnerable to John, the aspiring actor she meets a year later at college and soon marries. When she suffers a mental breakdown requiring hospitalization after the birth of her first child, Ellen's illness affects the entire family, especially as crisis follows crisis—a constant background threat as Beth and Peggy try to establish families of their own. Is Ellen's problem postpartum depression? A hereditary insanity that may run in the family? Was she always a little strange? Or is charming, manipulative John—who is childish rather than evil, but still the cause of much grief—to blame? The story is told in alternating sections by Ellen and by Beth (who finds herself obsessed with helping her favorite sister to the point where her own marriage is jeopardized) as the novel explores questions of love and responsibility. Some details about Ellen's life in N.Y.C. ring false, but the actions and emotions of Woodworth's characters are always convincing. Vivid and honest, dramatic and without pat resolutions: an impressive debut.
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