HEART'S DESIRE by Gwyneth Cravens


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Different in setting, mood, and amplitude from Cravens' last book, Love And Work (1982), here we are now with the family of Effie Hammond, the ex-dean of women at a small New Mexico college. It's the middle 60's. But Effie, along with everyone else in the country poised at the lip of a truly awful half decade or so, is still the most sun-struck of optimists, for whom everything in life is wonderful or at least progressively instructive. Little matter that her husband, Tom Senior, is dying of untreated (and long-denied by them both) heart disease; that her visiting son, Tom Junior, is obviously headed for failure and disappointment, way over his head as a junior philosophy faculty-member in New York, and radically alienating second wife, Judy; that her teen-aged daughter, Nancy, is beginning to drift. The worst Effie can think to say in protest to anything untoward in life is ""dadgummit."" Yet when Tom Senior soon dies (in spiritual desolation, unfulfilled); when daughter-in-law Judy arrives with her little girl to live with Effie while Tom (back in New York) screws-up utterly, losing touch with reality; when Effie almost loses her financial documents that will provide her with her widow's means, then actually loses her driver's license after an accident she causes--eventually, after all this, Effie begins to unwillingly crack apart the shell of her positive thinking. It's let her function but it also has kept a lot of pain inside, rotting. And in a houseful of women-Effie, Judy, Judy's little girl, and Nancy--they each slowly turn in their respective directions toward healing. Though often loose-seamed, slow, granular, and wayward, the book is impressive for the careful way it accumulates feelings; like some of Wright Morris', the characters here want to be other than they are but don't know how--for both good and bad. Thus they change--and they do change --almost imperceptibly. Patience, then, is required of a reader--with the reward of an ultimately touching, refreshingly un-angled novel. Unflashy but winning work.

Pub Date: May 7th, 1986
Publisher: Knopf