SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND by Dennis McFarland


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 The self-destructive family and the complicated love between siblings, core elements of McFarland's acclaimed 1990 debut The Music Room, reappear in a bold new configuration in this second novel about an elderly, emotionally unfulfilled brother and sister. News photographer and world traveler Francis Brimm has retired to his hometown of Pines, Florida; living nearby in the family home, her lifelong residence, is his older sister, 78-year-old Muriel. Their tranquillity is shattered when Francis discovers the remains of two murder victims, female college students; both Brimms receive threatening phone calls. But if the present is treacherous, so is the past. Her brother's return has revived Muriel's memories of an often grim childhood dominated by their father, an embittered doctor, a drunk, and a suicide. Muriel's defense has been religious belief, her brother's a skeptical detachment; neither has ever fully trusted others; ladies' man Francis has always shied away from commitments. McFarland's depiction of these old people navigating between visions, fantasy, and reality, fearful of appearing senile, glows with truthfulness. His handling of their fates is more problematic. A leisurely narrator, he suddenly, disconcertingly, becomes all business. Muriel, devastated by a childhood memory, succumbs to a fever, while Francis contracts a fatal blood disease; both are cocooned in fever-dreams. Their eleventh-hour savior is Deidre, young, unmarried, pregnant, and on the edge, Muriel's part-time help turned live-in housekeeper. Before Francis dies, all three savor the first-time experience of secure family love, of being thrillingly in touch, an apt sensation for the ``blind.'' It's a moving, dramatic conjunction, even if pushed a little too hard. Seldom has the combination in old people of spiritual authority, physical frailty, and sheer dottiness been caught with more acuity. McFarland's novel is full of airy meditations on mortality, but it is his robust characterizations that make it so heart-warming, such an impressive conquest of new territory. (Book- of-the-Month Club selection)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-395-64497-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1994


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