LIVING ARROWS by Gillian Martin
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This English author continues her involvement with women in familial roles, but here there's a more somber cast than in Passage of Time (1978)--as Martin scours the limits and breadth of a relationship between a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law through a winter's-night deathwatch. Aching and cold, middle-aged Val sits by the bedside of her dying mother-in-law Barbara, occasionally--but only occasionally--visited by anxious husband Harry and their worried, wondering teen-age children. At first Val fantasizes that Barbara--who through the years has been punishing, abrasive, flamboyantly kittenish, generally appalling--will now confess her faults and admit that Val was ""right all along."" But as Val reviews 20 years of Barbara, she begins to see things a bit differently. True, there are Barbara's horrors to remember: the many outrageous invasions, including Barbara in an orange hat, nose spread against the window, tapping at the newlyweds (""I knew you'd be glad to see us""); Barbara (or ""Baba,"" as she called herself) flirting with her two men, gentlemanly husband Angus and son Harry; harrowing excursions ruined by Barbara's rather boorish caprices; the torrent of put-downs. But what about the calm and efficient Barbara who surfaced briefly during Angus' last illness and death? And weren't Barbara's goads to Val (""If you didn't neglect your family by gadding about. . ."") really in a sense compliments--from one tough bird to another? Finally, with Barbara's death, Val wryly recognizes the rightness of Barbara's life in their family: ""She has been a burr under our collective saddle, made us jump and kick and snap, but that gave us a measure of unity."" True, Martin's portrait of Barbara lacks a deep veracity--she is, after all, seen through Val's eyes, and we're given no way to judge Val's perceptions. But as a study of family dynamics this is a rewarding, if grim, ordeal--another vivid domestic excursion from the author of The Goat, the Wolf and the Crab.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
Publisher: Scribners