Putting a nosy neighbor in the position of narrating events she could neither witness nor learn about secondhand is the awkward device that launches this dark comedy about a troubled family, by the author of Island (1992). On the surface, the Arroways seem happy. When elderly Martha Bowker decides to fend off boredom by keeping an eye on them, however, she finds that appearances are deceiving. Father Pete, a ghostwriter, sees himself as weak and has turned to Robert Bly and Batman for strength; he drifts into a flirtation with a business associate about whom he has obsessive fantasies. Mother Liz cares for their three children, her schizophrenic sister Sherri, and her ailing father, but she has isolated herself emotionally since the death 11 years earlier of her daughter Maddy. Liz believes that a ghostly Maddy appears to her in the dark, but she keeps the visitations a secret from Pete, sure that he will try to prove they aren't real. Jake, Katie, and baby Brigit are healthy and growing. But 12-year-old Jake, who believes his father hates him, is convinced that he accidentally killed his sister and his mother lied to protect him. Katie has an invisible friend whom she refuses to give up and Pete refuses to acknowledge. Then Liz finds out about Pete's flirtation, and Pete discovers Liz's obsession with Maddy when he reads her diary. Martha, who has insinuated herself into the Arroway home, waits patiently for a denouement. When Sherri shares Jake's painful secret with the rest of the family, Pete and Liz are finally forced to face the problems arising from their distractions, and the Arroways have a chance of actually becoming the happy family they appear to be. Despite the clumsy narrative premise, Schweighardt looks at domestic problems with honesty and humor.