BITTER LAKE by Ann Harleman


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 A polished but bloodless first novel from the author of Happiness (1994), winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, that offers yet another tale of women--here, a mother and daughter- -abandoned by the men they love too much. Set in a gritty Pennsylvania town dominated by its steel mill, the story's narrators are mother Judith and alienated teenage daughter Lil. In alternating chapters (replete with obligatory flashbacks to supposedly seminal but often banal moments in the past), the two record the events of the weeks following husband/father Gort's disappearance. Gort, an engineer at the mill, has gone off before. An idealist who cherishes his own space, he's easily threatened by too much routine and by emotional dependency. A two-week timeout has usually been enough to restore him to the family and workplace, but this time he seems to be staying away longer. As money grows short, Judith, who's lost her job and suffers from all sorts of phobias, is forced to seek work, which she finds as an apprentice carpenter across town. Meanwhile, Lil, who reveres Gort, despises her mother's timidity, and is irritated by younger sister Susie, moves in with great-aunt Clesta, who lives in a crumbling mansion. As the summer passes, Judith has an affair with Eli, a co-worker; Lil embarks on a sexual relationship with cousin Daniel, also living with Clesta; and Judith recalls how she met and married Gort, a first cousin, when she was only 19. The discovery of Gort's body in his favorite lake leads to one of those familiar cathartic crises that tests both Judith and Lil. And, also as usual, both women pass the trial: Mother and daughter find a new restorative closeness. Smoothly done, but tired and overworked.

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1997
ISBN: 0-87074-404-6
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: Southern Methodist Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1996