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Although centered on a violent murder/suicide that takes place early on, this is essentially a meditative, multi-voiced examination of the guilts, prides and lonely accommodations to social class and family myth-making--matters also addressed in A Mother and Two Daughters (1982)--among members of an unhappy North Carolina family immobilized under "layer upon layer of debilitating resentments and intrigues." "It's like being inside a drama in which good influences and bad influences are being played out. . .it's impossible. . .to affix blame," comments urbane Felix, musing on the family of his lover, 40-ish Clare. What caused 28-year-old Theo Quick--a failure in both career and marriage, and father of young Jason--to shoot to death his girlfriend while her child watched, and then kill himself?. Each member of the grieving Quick family, Clare's childhood friend Julia, and Theo's divorced wife, the "hillbilly" Snow, bear their bewildered grief into the dark comers of their recent histories. Theo's father, Ralph, a selfmade man now bankrupt and disillusioned, from a "middling" background, too late tries to redeem the son he'd locked out. Ralph's wife Lily, self-elevated from husband and children, realizes--also too late--that it was Theo, rather than son Rare, she'd "trusted most to love her." Rare, in therapy, painfully calls to mind Theo's "flirting with the idea of his self-destruction." Meanwhile, plain-spoken Snow, who will win a custody battle for Jason, and who shares with Lily (they despise one another) a "secretive separateness" from family, sees a Theo plain, stripped of the caul of the family--yet aches for the essential good man who was buried-in-life. Clare (successful novelist and Lily's daughter by a first marriage), Julia, and Felix attempt to weigh the influences of class and origins on the Southern family, and shade in the portrait of Theo that is never complete--an echo of Theo's criticism of Clare's work: she should write something "that can never be wrapped up." A "slow march" (Clare's expression) of meditations in voices that sound somewhat similar (except for Snow's tangier diction), brightened by Godwin's acute sense of people paralyzed by circumstances--this is thoughtful chipping away at one family's crystalline certainties and disparate dreams.
Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 1987
ISBN: 0380729873
Page count: 548pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1987


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