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Clay's first novel (his stories last appeared in magazines and anthologies 20 years ago) has an especially fond texture: that of a family which might easily have been dashed up and broken after the desertion of an irresponsible, charming, and alcoholic father--but which instead slowly reknitted itself. That they're quite rich may or may not help; Philadelphia is the location, the ambience is cushy, and narrator Chris, the second eldest son of Louise Hooper, has memories--1929-1942--that include summers in Juan-les-Pins, his father's dalliance with the German governess, his mother's remarriage, prep schools, Harvard, coming-out parties. But the family's pith is the crucial element; each of the four children adds a different, supporting element. Eldest son Peter, dislodged from his role of surrogate father to the younger kids by his mother's remarriage to a Mr. Wagner, grows up preternaturally calm and mature--or is it that something was hushed, dead in him? Marlie, the only girl, clings to fantasies of her real father, wishful beliefs that he still cares about her; out of such sustained, desperate imaginings eventually comes not only a Main-Line deb but a surprisingly fine and original artist. Johnny, the youngest, grows up handsome, self-assured, seemingly unscathed by a family history he was too young to really remember; yet his grace under pressure reveals him as a true Hooper. Chris himself, who, like Gatsby's Nick Carraway, stands back and observes, seems fuzziest of all of them. But soft edges are the currency here: quiet scenes, a family history being built up out of pebbles. A graceful, barkless book.

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1978
Publisher: David Obst/Random House