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 Interminable, pointlessly tangled novels have become Kramer's trademark: this second novel--about the tribulations of an American family--repeats all the flaws of her first (Handbook for Visitors from Outer Space, 1984). Zoâ Carver has not spoken for ten years. What rendered her speechless was a series of shocks culminating in the death of the father of her high-school boyfriend, Robert Went. Was it a traffic accident? Or did Robert cause the death, as he claimed? How much was Zoâ implicated? Finally she may get some answers, for word that Robert has been released from the mental hospital has reached Zoâ as she arrives in New Mexico for a Christmas reunion with brother Nick (the rattlesnake farmer), his wife Ellie, and their mother Monica. (Where is father Seth? Another mystery.) The novel proceeds on three tracks, moving between New Mexico, Zoâ's childhood in Sparta (read Annapolis, Maryland), and the grim history of her mother's New Hampshire family, featuring a witch (drowned in 1776), a suicide, the presumption of incest, insanity, and the curse of second sight, which means that Zoâ can see the past (her first sexual experience was with the ghost of great-great-uncle Samuel). The rattling of skeletons harmonizes not at all with the yapping of teenagers in Sparta or the social pleasantries of the grown-ups in New Mexico; the appearance of Stewart Beauregard (previous owner of Nick's property) increases the cacophony. The sinister Stewart had caused his father's death, no question, and almost kills Zoâ, which stops her brooding about Robert (``even if she could know...what he'd done and why, it would make no difference'') but leaves everything up in the air. Kramer's constant invocation of Christian myth adds nothing to this humorless, tone-deaf work.

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1992
ISBN: 0-679-40428-7
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1992