SECOND HEAVEN by Judith Guest


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In case you were wondering . . . Ordinary People was no fluke: Guest's second Detroit-based novel again expertly catches middle-class loners in the first crackles of seismic rebellion against closet miseries--and again zooms in close on adolescent terror. The principal grownups this time are two insular people, both recovering (with each other's eventual help) from divorce. Catherine ""Cat"" Holzman, mother of a grown daughter, cooly dumped by doctor-husband Alex for a young lover, is at first resigned to be the victim of injustice: she blames her ""sallow, parasitical"" lifestyle for her situation; she drifts through funks and drunks; she feels helpless against Alex's dirty tricks. Then, however, with the realization that she is ""completely alone,"" Cat sells her antiseptic mansion for a run-down handyman's special, diving into a muddle of messy painting and carpentry, wriggling out from under. And sharing her bumbling, trial-and-error emergence, though from a bemused distance at the start, is lawyer Michael Atwood--who handles Cat's divorce while suffering terribly from his own: efficient little ex-wife Joy has re-married, taking the kids to Washington, leaving Michael miserable. (""To know that it doesn't matter to anyone, that was what killed you."") But Cat and Michael still remain only mildly, distantly connected . . . until one night 16-year-old Gale Murray, fainting and seriously burned, arrives at Cat's door: abused since infancy by a maniacal, religious-fanatic father (screaming sermons, beatings, burning), Gale has been irrevocably alone, tethered to madness, since his older brother ran away. Understandably, then, both Cat and Michael are drawn into Gale's strangulated life--as Cat gives him a temporary home and Michael becomes his lawyer. (Placed in a juvenile detention center, Gale awaits trial for ""incorrigibility."") And after more anguish and savagery for poor, uncommunicative Gale, all three isolated, ordinary people will be liberated, will open up and reach out, finding new havens/heavens in one another. Despite the slightly unconvincing melodrama of Gale and his predicament: a totally involving triptych of hurt, healing souls--with the same direct, plainly mesmerizing impact that was the hallmark of Guest's near-legendary debut.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Viking