HOUSEHOLD WORDS by Joan Silber
Kirkus Star

HOUSEHOLD WORDS

KIRKUS REVIEW

A low-keyed, sad first novel about a woman who, groomed for a life of manageable minutiae and ""normal"" familial occasions, is immobilized and splintered by ravaging forces she cannot control. Suburban New Jersey housewife Rhoda Taber has ""never done anything to tempt catastrophe"" and yet from 1940, when she gives birth to her first child, to the 1960s, disaster has ""leaked into her life."" She's a ""good gift,"" a believer in the importance of ""making your own chances,"" and she even feels a bit superior in her ability to cope with life. Every success--from teaching French to furniture polishing--is hard-won, with the security of an adored mother (a ""radiant authority"") in the background. And though Rhoda is often obtuse (with ""an inadequate inner life""), she and gently intelligent pharmacist-husband Leonard become financially secure parents of two young daughters, always realistic, ready to ""bear what was bearable."" But when Rhoda's boisterous, adored mother dies of cancer, one wall of her fortress crumples and she counts what she has left: ""Leonard, daughters Suzanne and Claire. . . ."" Then, inexplicably, Leonard dies of a heart attack. Rhoda, devastated and diminished, shakily applies herself to raising stubborn Suzanne and volatile Claire while briefly attracted to kind, expansive Moe Seidman--who wants to marry her. (But ""their times together were cheaply sweet and insubstantial. She was less than she might be."") Next, inevitably, the girls begin to pull away from Rhoda's dogmatic authority: Suzanne, in the midst of Rhoda's slaps and tirades, will fail school and move out of state; Claire, edgy and wary, blows hot and cold. And finally Rhoda, fatally ill, in pain and helpless, ""a normal woman with an attractive face who was trapped in a mistake,"" remembers herself with Leonard as they once were: ""Bright-faced, sturdy, lucky people. . . . She had been waiting for the form of this life to return."" In spite of a glossy, over-easy narration, this a ring-of-truth story of cruel Fate's gale force directed on the weakest, most exposed and unprepared of victims--and, for those who can identify, it has a moving pathos and an insidiously lingering afterglow.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1979
ISBN: 0393328236
Publisher: Viking