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GETTING OUT by Gwendolen Gross

GETTING OUT

By Gwendolen Gross

Pub Date: June 11th, 2002
ISBN: 0-8050-6834-1
Publisher: Henry Holt

Even committed couch potatoes should enjoy the graceful blending of outdoor adventuring and wry immersion in family dynamics that distinguishes this engaging second novel by Gross (Field Guide , 2001).

We’re won over immediately by the catchy, knowing voice of its narrator, Hannah Blue, the twentysomething middle child of a Newton, Massachusetts, family whose members are at odds with one another. Her father, a distracted and somewhat disheveled ceramicist, seems essentially unfazed when he’s diagnosed with terminal lupus. Her mother (from whom he’s divorced), a prominent surgeon, briskly insists everything’s under control. Hannah’s siblings Ted and Marla are involved, respectively, in an unsuitable engagement and a troubled marriage. And Hannah’s practically perfect boyfriend Ben begins to lose some of his considerable appeal when she impulsively starts spending time away from him as a member of an “Adventurers’ Club” devoted to exploring caves, climbing mountains, and testing their communal mettle. Once the aforementioned situations are set up, Getting Out has a pretty arbitrary plot, and few surprises. But it does have Gross’s keenly accurate comprehension of her likable heroine’s reluctance to choose between sexy mountain men and irreversibly urbanized, gentle Ben; escaping-from versus clinging-to her endearingly screwed-up, essentially goodhearted kinfolk. In keeping with its rotating emphases on hardy self-denial and languorous surrender to creature comforts, this is all notably sensual, alert to subtle smells, tastes, and physical sensations. And who can resist a heroine who says things like “I can’t remember my own birth, but I’m sure it was something like caving,” and comes to her senses when, following a climactic solo wilderness trek, she realizes that “I needed practice at attachment.”

If the fabricated gender-nonspecific machismo of TV’s Survivor bores the hell out of you, try this out. It’s a charmer.