GIDEON'S HOUSE by Jean Brody


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Earnest, talky family-reunion fiction--as a funeral brings together two estranged sisters for the airing of old resentments, guilts, and secrets. Elizabeth Warwick, a ""scarlet woman"" who decades ago abandoned her two small daughters, dies of an alcoholism-related stroke. So cynical Susannah Warwick, freethinking TV celebrity/ journalist, arrives (with Jewish agent/lover Marty) for her mother's funeral at the family homestead in Oklahoma--now inhabited by sister Kate, brother-in-law Jason (a cattle-rancher), and their four young children. Both sisters, who were raised by their upright, God-fearing grandpa Gideon, feel bitter. Susannah recalls, with a flashback, how Jason was her reluctantly seduced fiancÉ--till the affair was soured by sexual guilt, Jason's cattle-obsession, and grandpa Gideon's will (which left the land to Kate); she then left home for the Big Career, winding up twice-divorced and childless. (""I branded myself with a fucking scarlet A, married a fag and then a womanizer. Pretty good punishment, huh?"") Kate, meanwhile, has always felt second-best, less-loved--leading to a sexless marriage and one bout of adultery (producing son Hodge, who's just learned the distressing Truth). Thus, there are predictable stewings--in dialogue and internal monologue--as the sisters reconsider their hangups and their contrasting values; Susannah in particular is pushed towards change--disavowing her cynicism, declining an adulterous rematch with Jason, unselfishly doing her bit to save her sister's marriage. And finally, after a conveniently symbolic tornado crisis, yet another secret (involving not-so-saintly grandpa Gideon) will be exposed--while two of Kate's troubled kids have emotional breakthroughs. . . and the sisters wind up laughing together in ""a raspy, jubilant duet."" Over-stocked with YA-style psychology (pat, stagey) and contrived secrets--but, mixing Susannah's sharp gloss with the overall sentimentality, Brody gives this well-meaning first novel some old-fashioned surface appeal.

Pub Date: April 11th, 1984
Publisher: Putnam