A sobfest about a mother, her brain-damaged child, and the two men she's loved. Rice's eighth novel confirms the worst fears of those who admired her earlier work, particularly Crazy in Love (1988) and the flawed but interesting Secrets of Paris (1991). Perhaps in an effort to gain wide readership—and maybe even a nod from the all-powerful Oprah—a solid domestic novelist has turned sentimental and trendy, constructing her story around topics a generous publicist might call "ripped from today's headlines" and a disappointed fan might deem way too topical and formulaic. Shortly before Dianne Robbins gave birth to a developmentally disabled daughter, her handsome, irresponsible fisherman husband, Tim McIntosh, leaves her. He couldn't deal with the fact that his child would be less than perfect. Twelve years later Dianne and Julia are in the same rural Connecticut town, dependent on Dianne's plainspoken librarian mother, Lucinda, and Tim's pediatrician brother, Alan, whom Dianne had dated once before marrying Tim. Although Alan is still in love with Dianne, instead of admitting this to her'she loves him too, by the way—he stays close by ministering to Julia. Soon, however, the lovers admit their feelings and ba-boom, something bad happens: Dianne is in a freak accident, and by mistake the wrong McIntosh—Tim—is called to the scene. Will the long-suffering Dianne, the ideal mother, the Good Person, succumb to her ex's charms? Will Alan the Saint forgive Tim for behavior that stems, Rice tells us, from his pain at watching another brother die in adolescence? In case all this isn't hokey enough, tune in to the misunderstood neighbor girl who baby-sits for Julia and provides Dianne with a glimpse of the daughter she might have had, and to last chapter, "Julia's Story," in which the 12-year-old who cannot speak reveals her thoughts and feelings. Predictable plot, stock characters, and unnuanced emotion. The good news: At least there are no violins.
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