Blow-by-blow account of a woman’s struggle to keep her sanity despite an autistic daughter and bipolar husband: a debut that tries to be both an issue-novel and an exploration of selfhood.
Narrator Bridget Fox is not a happy camper. A New Yorker by upbringing and inclination, she has recently moved to Minneapolis because her sculptor husband, Pierce, has a tenured teaching position there. Stuck in what she considers the boondocks caring for her two daughters, two-year-old Cleo and almost five-year-old Maeve, Bridget must watch from afar as her cousin/best friend Nessa dies of breast cancer and her brilliant and beloved if alcoholic father—as opposed to her distant, utterly sane mother—succumbs to kidney cancer. Meanwhile, Maeve’s development isn’t on track. She doesn’t talk or play normally and soon is diagnosed as autistic. Still grieving over the deaths, Bridget schleps Maeve to special classes, follows medication procedures, cleans up after her. Everyone tells Bridget how well she’s holding up, but she describes in detail just how scared and ambivalent she actually feels. The reader is never allowed to forget that this woman has had horribly bad luck. To top it off, Pierce turns out to be manic-depressive, requiring hospital stays and more medication-scheduling. Bridget joins a support group and almost takes up again with her first husband. Her mother drops in and offers unexpected solace. Maeve becomes only harder to handle while Cleo blossoms. Pierce ends up in the emergency ward. Bridget copes—until suddenly she can’t anymore and downs sleeping pills. Now she’s the one in the hospital coming to grips with her suppressed anger (as if she hasn’t been expressing it loudly all along) and with the need to place Maeve in a facility. Rising to the occasion, Pierce takes over at home. Bridget recovers. Maeve is placed. A shaky stability arrives.
Excessive navel-gazing and self-pity get in the way of the sharp observations and sense of humor that newcomer Burns displays.