A cheerless and schematic coming-of-age novel, Florida-set, limns a thin tale of unsuitable mothers, weak fathers, and, of course, horribly messed-up daughters. Rushed to a hospital after attempting suicide, 15-year old Arlen decides it's time to tell her story. It's not her first hospital visit; that occurred when she was six. As her parents quarreled on Easter Sunday, she lost an eye in an accident while playing in the garden with brother Ryan. Arlen has had a tough middle-class life, growing up without love because her mother Olivia doesn't know how to offer it. And, all things considered, perhaps she shouldn't be expected to. For as Olivia, who came of age in the early '60s, found out too late—one marriage and three children too late'she's not a natural mother. She's no good at nurturing or keeping house, and she should have been anywhere other than stuck at home with three kids. After divorcing Arlen's dad, Ransome, she abused the children, left them alone without telling them where she was going, and became terminally self- absorbed. Still, Olivia's not a monster, Woodbrown seems to suggest, but a product herself of a dysfunctional family. Reared in the Florida swamps, she was regularly beaten and sexually abused by her daddy while her own mother did nothing. She grew up angry, frightened, and insecure, qualities her marriage did nothing to dissipate. Arlen, who loves her mom, forgives the beatings and rejections but also feels unhappy and alone. Dad is weak and ineffectual, brother Ryan is weird, and little sister Audie too young to confide in, so she tries to seduce an older man. Nothing, however, not even the pills she begins taking in desperation, helps the hurt inside her heart. Strong, even controversial material, but diluted by characters too one-dimensional to convince, and too schematic to be moving or memorable.
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