Slow to engage all its gears and operating until the final chapters at a mostly murmurous pitch, Plante's depiction of the...



Slow to engage all its gears and operating until the final chapters at a mostly murmurous pitch, Plante's depiction of the life of a French-Canadian family in Providence, R.I., during the Fifties comes within a hair of being self-canceling. But little by added little, it builds; the varnish of truth Plante has taken care to brush so artfully over his material becomes noticeable as the novel darkens; suddenly we're inside a family's pain, and deeply, deeply moved. All that makes the Francoeurs a strong unit--pride, piety, fidelity--serves eventually to poison them individually. The father loses his job as a machinist when he opposes the union (a Republican in a lower-middle-class Catholic Democratic parish, he's not unused to independence, but unemployment is another thing altogether). The oldest three of his seven sons pull together to cheer their father up by buying a country house for him and their mother, pledging themselves to assume the payments. But a combination of the father's loss at a try for political office and the third-eldest son's decision to marry a non-Catholic girl (which will mean that he won't be able to share in the mortgage payments for a while) so depresses the father that he strikes out at what's closest--the family--and cuts the offending son out of his heart: he won't speak, hear, or know of him. Mutely, the mother watches this disintegration of all she has--slipping tiredly into mental illness, for which she must undergo shock treatments. The treatments seem to the father like the last insult, the one he can hardly bear. ""You're killing my wife. You're electrocuting my wife,"" he tells the sons--and to the wife he yells: ""Go to the hospital and have a shock. Go get a shock."" And soon, before we even really know it, Plante has moved us center-stage into an authentic tragedy, inarticulate with injury and missed opportunities. Blame is beside the point and, sadly, so is love. This is the way families suffer: group strangulation by flypaper. Each of the sons, beautifully drawn by Plante, turns away his eyes in a different way, but they all glance helplessly back alike. Plante's earlier books published here have been lapidary and exquisite but also superficial; here he's driven down and yielded a stark, beautifully applied work. Too quiet for its own good at first, then absolutely, commandingly superb.

Pub Date: July 5, 1978


Page Count: -

Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1978