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Sullivan's first two novels (Repent, Lanny Merkel, 1981, and Watch Dog, 1982) demonstrated her talents for wry, incisive wit in the first case and supernatural/psychological tension in the second. This third novel is her most fully realized to date, and blends both these narrative tones. It chronicles one middle-aged woman's efforts to make peace with her grown children, a dying marriage and a terrible secret from the past. To all outward appearances, Larissa Demming has always been the perfect wife to her self-centered, remote professor of a husband. At 48, however, and frantic to prevent her daughter's marriage to a four-square, preppy type whom she finds unsuitable (knowing the girl to be still deeply in love with another man with whom she has inexplicably broken), Larissa's somewhat sardonic but quite calm and collected surface begins to crack. Spending the summer at her vacation home on a river in the unspoiled country outside of Minneapolis, she becomes embroiled in a community feud where nature purists line up against a bunch of rapacious developers and the townsfolk who support them. Quickly her 20-year friendship with the man who runs the local newspaper is transformed by vicious gossip into an affair, and her already alientated marriage hits the skids. Increasingly distraught, she begins to encounter what she at first believes to be a hallucination waiting for her in the woods--a manifestation of the Greek god Pan. Through increasing intimacy with this personification of her own deepest and long-buried sexual and emotional needs, Larissa is eventually able to plumb the depths of a hauting and heartbreaking incestuous relationship with her father. Finally forgiving both herself and him, she finds the courage to break off her deadening marriage, resume her career as a painter, and set off on the path of psychological integrity. Especially good when rendering the dailiness of marriage and domesticity, this novel is distinguished by limpid and evocative writing that only occasionally veers off into the mannered and grandiloquent. On balance, a textured and involving portrait of a woman who engages the reader's affection and attention throughout.

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 1985
Publisher: Macmillan