CHILDREN, MY CHILDREN by Celestine Sibley


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If you think that title sounds like a weepy soap opera, you're exactly right; this dreary, long-suffering-mother melodrama has disappointingly little in common with Sibley's gritty Jincey. The super-devoted mom here (whom many readers will find more stiflingly over-involved than nobly loving) is 55-year-old Sally McMillan, the long-widowed, short-of-cash owner of a little island in the Gulf of Mexico. And Sally's chief woe is her generally useless daughter Leslie--whose rotten marriage to jazz musician Hal has now reached its worst moment: philandering Hal has taken their twin 13-year-olds, Bunk and Bunny, to live with him in New Orleans; and the kids seem to have turned against both mother Leslie and grandma Sally (could they have been brainwashed?). Yes, another custody-battle novel--complete with unhelpful lawyer, sleazy private detective, and a try at reverse kidnapping in New Orleans. But Sibley draws no Kiss-Mommy-Goodbye-style drama from the situation--because about half of the book is devoted to soggy, pace-killing flashbacks: the crib death of Leslie's first baby; Leslie's neglect of baby Bunny, who got burned; Leslie and Hal's Texas arrest for marijuana possession; Leslie's suicide attempt, check-forging, and abortion ("" 'Oh, no!' gasped Sally, sagging onto the ottoman in front of the fire. 'Leslie, how could you?' ""); the death of Sally's earthy, wise mother Angie. And, in the present, Sally alternately gasps, prays, lectures, or is ""immobilized by shock""--as she wonders if bovine, drippy Leslie might indeed have been a bad mother to the twins. Finally, however, waitress Leslie falls for struggling restaurateur Pete, getting divorced and married and pregnant: ""Sally's heart lifted. Another baby. It would not take the place of the missing children. . . . And yet. . . oh, it's good, it's good."" Only for those with a weakness for depressing, saccharine suds--and an unquestioning belief in such credos of matriarchy as ""Never love the man more than the children!

Pub Date: July 1st, 1981
Publisher: Harper & Row