Incest, suicide, and a dead baby—who could ask for anything more in a first novel?
Theodora Mapes writes copy for the kind of children’s catalogues that feature perfect velvet dresses and wooden toys. She’s not amused by the irony when she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant: any child of hers will have more than its share of psychological baggage. Her own mother, Marian, committed suicide when Theo was eight. Her cold, remote father denies it still, though he does admit his dead wife had a drinking problem. Theo can relate to that: she’s separated from husband Jackson, a phlegmatic midwesterner with an unquenchable thirst for beer. Living in southern California after leaving their Colorado home, Theo seeks the truth about the deaths of her mother and her baby sister Charlotte. The family is less than forthcoming: Dad says only that babies died more often in those days; older brother Corb is closemouthed to the extreme; even Evan, their garrulous former housekeeper, has nothing to add. Theo consoles herself with former boyfriend Gregg, churns out precious, adjective-laden copy, and continues her search for any concrete information about her mother’s demise. She happens upon a cache of medical and psychological evaluations and learns that Marian had attempted suicide several times, undergoing electroshock treatment and a stint in a mental hospital before succeeding. Then Theo finds her mother’s letters and discovers that not only had her grandfather raped Marian and younger sister Lyla, he’d done the same to four-year-old Theo. But wait There’s worse to come, as Marian’s correspondence continues with confessions of her own lurid misdeeds. Nothing daunted, Theo gives birth in due time to a daughter and showers her with healthy mother love and . . . milk.
Hammond (stories: Breathe Something Nice, 1997, not reviewed) definitely goes for the baroque here. Overwrought and crammed with often revolting detail.