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Ellison (Alabaster Chambers, 1979; First Light, 1985) looks at family relationships and the changing South--in a disjointed novel that provokes some smiles of recognition but lacks overall emotional impact. Ellison's characters indeed make pictures (protagonist Eleanor is an artist; sad, haunted Ben Bolt, who used to work for her family, becomes an obsessive photographer), and they also live with constant anxiety, mourning their lost children: Eleanor has a stillborn child; her directionless sister-in-law longs for the son she gave up for adoption; Eleanor's parents lose one daughter in a car accident--an event that causes Ben to disappear overnight (""Henry Glass wasn't paying me to take on sorrow""), while he also thinks about the daughter he previously abandoned. The novel, in the form of monologues by the main characters, jumps back and forth in time between 1963 and 1988, between trendy Atlanta and the peach farm where Eleanor grew up, exploring family bonds and the ways in which people both break with and can't escape the past. Unfortunately, though, the monologues are so heavily weighted toward everyday details that the story lags. Ellison includes many contemporary issues: Eleanor, happy in her second marriage, can't get pregnant; she goes to New York in order to paint free of family responsibilities and is soon mothering a pregnant homeless girl; Fitz, her ex-mother-in-law, organizes senior citizens as environmental activists; but only Eleanor's mother--who has grown more liberated yet still can't understand her daughter's ambitions and attitudes--really comes to life. Intermittently satisfying.

Pub Date: July 19th, 1990
Publisher: Morrow