From story-writer Hughes (The Calling, 1980, etc.): an occasionally moving—if also a bit wooden—first novel about a couple's divorce that's complicated by the wife's father and a quarrel over real estate. Cora and Alan Belknap, both academics, decide to divorce, despite three children and Cora's parents' wishes (``We must be unique—divorcing without anger''). Meantime, Haskell, Cora's attorney father, decides that Cora and Alan should sign over their house's title to him: ``For lawyers, the profit is in the squabbling....'' Haskell is also unhappy with the way Larry, one of the three children, is turning out (``No man wanted something like this for a grandson''). The main plotlines thus established, the novel grinds its way through the various complications. The house and lot, it turns out, are worth a lot of money to a developer; Alan is under financial pressure to help his brother pay their father's hospital bills; and Alan wants money so that he can do his own research without being attached to a university. Haskell, meanwhile, has the house declared historically significant to protect it. As the struggle heats up, Hughes gives us the slice-of- life consequences of a separation, including jealousies and the history of the house itself. Finally, a suspicious fire results in temporary reconciliation, but one child falls through a floor in the damaged house and is electrocuted. Everyone learns something, and life goes on, but there's no final reconciliation. An honest, sincere look at the surprises in store for even the best-intentioned people when they mistakenly assume they can manage life. A sometimes predictable debut novel, but one that also avoids the usual sentimental and satirical clichÇs.
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