A FRAGILE PEACE by Jonellen Heckler


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The family of an upper-middle-class Southern California ad exec struggles with dad's drinking problem in Heckler's second novel. (Her first, Safekeeping, 1983, was another family drama.) And dad doesn't drink only a little; the advertising Wunderkind takes a snort whenever he can, knows all the hiding places for bottles around the home--toilet tank, paint cans in the garbage, etc. Just how long Mike Stockman's been addicted isn't, unfortunately, made clear, though true to pattern, his father drank before him. What is made garishly clear is what life is like for the alcoholic's family, terrorized into placating complicity by Mike's unpredictable mood swings, his physical and psychological abuse, and the cast-iron rule in the Stockman home that nobody must know. Mike's wife Katy's answer is to soothe and cover up, even after he nearly blinds a friend's son by ""accidentally"" overturning a Christmas tree on him. His daughter Lee crawls into her closet and cries, while his son Rick recoils in sullen disgust, turning to his girlfriend's family for warmth and peace. It's only after Mike loses his job and Lee rides her bike into the wind-shield of an uncoming car that Mike admits he's alcoholic. Katy finally turns her back on her husband, though Mike's faithful brother does succeed in getting him into counseling, where Mike's understandably pained to hear Katy and Lee describe some of the drunken outrages he's committed and then forgotten. Son Rick, who it seems will remain the only unforgiving member of this troubled family, refuses to be involved in the family-focused treatment. But in the final pages we see him buying his dad a Father's Day card, supplying the novel with a meager--not to mention, undeserved--happy ending. Heckler creates the ugly scenes of alcoholism with hard-hitting clarity (making the novel something of a dramatized casebook), but the writing and characterization (especially that of Katy) are less strong. So for readers with a need to know about alcohol's effect on family life, this may be elucidating, offering, as it does, a ""bleeding slice of life."" The more casual fiction reader's tempted to say, ""Enough's enough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Putnam