J. EDEN by Kit Reed


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Reedian thoughts about life, marriage, middle age, and children when three couples, their kids, and a close friend spend the summer lumped together in a New England farmhouse. As Kit Craig, Reed wrote the richly stylized psychothriller Gone (1992). This is both Reed's most ambitious novel and her slowest, plowing along like, say, To the Lighthouse--though without Virginia Woolf's prose. What the couples, and the reader, don't know at first is that fine-minded, houseproud Leslie, nonworking wife of the very successful writer Chad, has suckered the whole aging crew into this summer ""idyllness"" so that she can carry on her affair with one of the husbands, which she's doing in response to Chad's infidelity. All's sportive to start, but summer's lease hath all too brief a term to spend, and by midsummer great cracks appear that lead to despair and tragedy. Reed's storytelling attracts once one gets used to it: Each chapter is in a different character's voice, including group voices as well (""the kids"" and so on). Among the players are very rich adman Calvin, immensely jealous of Chad's literary success, and his squashy, plump wife Jane, mother of Rocky and the monstrously hyper little Alfred. Then there's Chad and Leslie's oversensitive boy Timothy, called Lucky, who feels terribly weird entering adolescence. Others are pottery-making Polly and horror-movie writer Zack, as well as Stig, whose wife Roseann has fled, leaving him with their pubescent daughter Speedy. There are a few more nuts and raisins, but the suspense hangs on the question of who's sleeping with whom and what everyone is thinking about aging, parenthood, mortality, etc. These thoughts pile up like padding toward the end, just when you want the climax to take off without the author getting in the way. Terrific takes on time's rush, with a touch of that personal enlightenment offered to a certain generation of moviegoers by The Big Chill--but less glib.

Pub Date: March 22nd, 1996
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Univ. Press of New England