FAMILY HISTORY by Dani Shapiro


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Shapiro (the memoir Slow Motion, 1998; Picturing the Wreck, 1996, etc.) returns with a “poor me” novel about a woman whose perfect family has disintegrated before her eyes.

Rachel, the classic (and classically annoying) victim-heroine, is constantly resentful—her mother, her friends, her children, her husband have all disappointed her. Husband Ned has moved out of the house, toddler Josh may have developmental problems, and daughter Kate is in a boarding facility for troubled teenagers, where she’s just picked a fight with another girl. Despondent, Rachel looks back over her life with Ned. They fell in love in New York, where she was a grad student and he an aspiring artist. When she became unexpectedly pregnant, they married and moved back to Massachusetts, into a house his parents helped him buy; he took a job as a teacher and they doted on their daughter until the summer 13-year-old Kate returned from camp no longer their sunny, athletic, loving daughter, but a sullen tattooed and pierced adolescent (camps allow tattooing and piercing these days?). The incidents Rachel recalls—rudeness, shoplifting—could describe any teenager, but Rachel sensed that Kate’s problems were deeper, even though Kate seemed to rally after she learned Rachel was pregnant. But after unexpected complications kept Kate out of the birthing room, she began a downward emotional spiral that was exacerbated when she accidentally dropped seven-month-old Josh. Soon, she told her psychiatrist that Ned had sexually molested her. No one believed Kate, who’d also begun cutting herself, but Ned lost his job and took up selling real estate for his decent if insensitive parents. Rachel describes her own mother as evil and deranged, although her behavior seems no worse than that of most aging, neurotic mothers. Rachel and Ned visit Kate’s school, and after the girl acknowledges she did a terrible thing, the family joins in a group hug.

Static. Gracefully written, but, after the first few chapters, nothing builds until the uplifting (and unearned) close.

Pub Date: April 8th, 2003
ISBN: 0-375-41547-5
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2003


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