by Roxana Robinson ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 1, 1998
Another sensitive examination of universal emotions in the hearts of affluent WASPs from Robinson, in a novel that depicts a second marriage imperiled by offspring from the first. When Emma Goodwin and Peter Chatfield fall in love in 1984, both are recently divorced and feeling guilty because they initiated the break-ups. Emma's ex-husband, Warren (the book's only crudely drawn portrait), is a manipulative brute who uses their three-year-old daughter, Tess, as a weapon; social-climbing Caroline Chatfield, devastated by Peter's departure, feels a vindictiveness toward him that only exacerbates seven-year-old Amanda's sullenness and rage. When Peter and Emma marry, it's clear that the stage is set for disaster, though the grim denouement takes eight years to arrive. As in her short fiction (Asking for Love, 1996, etc.), Robinson expertly delineates complex interactions among people, charting the ebb and flow of passions, the revision of opinions as her characters learn and mature. There are no villains (not even Warren), just fallible human beings whose mistakes sometimes have permanent consequences. Amanda's behavior worsens as she enters her teens, and Peter's misguided attempts to force her to be part of his new family only deepen her alienation; and well-intentioned Emma, rejected over and over again, finds her marriage battered by her inability to love her stepdaughter. This unhappy impasse is shattered by an automobile accident that shocks all the protagonists out of their frozen attitudes. Robinson's carefully honed techniques aren't quite as effective here as in her stories; instead of a few key epiphanies that illuminate a short text, she loads her full-length narrative with so many instances of the characters musing on their relationships and their feelings that the insights occasionally seem obvious and excessive. These flaws, though, are transcended in the moving final chapters, which show people we care about groping toward reconciliation and renewal. A thoughtful, tender tale by one of our finest exponents of traditional realistic fiction.
Pub Date: July 1, 1998
Page Count: 416
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998
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