SECRET HARMONIES by Andrea Barrett


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Music is the unifying theme in this story of family disarray, but, here, Barrett never reaches the perfect pitch she found in her first novel, Lucid Stars (1988). Reba Dwyer lives on a rundown chicken farm in western Massachusetts with her father Bowen, her eccentric mother Mag, her brother Hank, and her retarded younger sister Tonia. There is a restlessness about red-haired Reba, a promise of future greatness that may have to do with her musical ability, her pure singing voice. But almost as soon as Reba goes away to music school, a family crisis erupts: Bowen has left home, and Mag is unable to cope with Tonia. Reba returns to the farm and, eventually, to the arms of her childhood sweetheart, Luke Wyatt. It seems, at first, that solid, steady Luke may be just the anchor that drifting Reba needs. She marries him and tries to float on the domestic tide. But all too quickly Reba feels the weight of the chains holding her in place. She snaps free and embarks on a new life--a series of humiliating love affairs. She also turns back to her music studies and spends more time with her brother and sister. Finally, she comes to a new level of understanding about her father's disappearance and what it's meant in her life. All of this is plausible enough, but it never really takes us anywhere. We keep waiting for connections that are never made. Luke, the anchor, is made much of and then allowed to float right out of the storyline without much of a ripple. And Reba, who once had her sights set on new horizons, never truly takes off. There's some fine writing here--Barrett really does know about the secret harmonies that hum below the surface of family life--but the novel, while never really flat, doesn't hit many high notes.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1989
ISBN: 0671731378
Publisher: Delacorte