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THE BIG SHUFFLE by Laura Pedersen

THE BIG SHUFFLE

By Laura Pedersen

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 2006
ISBN: 0-345-47956-4
Publisher: Ballantine

Third installment in the Hallie Palmer series (Heart’s Desire, 2005, etc.) offers more somber subject matter: the death of a parent.

Nearly 19 and studying graphic design at the Cleveland Art Institute, Hallie is summoned from a fraternity party (in this world, art students apparently hang out with jocks and frat boys) by news that her 39-year-old father has suffered a fatal heart attack and her mother is in shock and sedated. Returning home to her nine siblings, Hallie soon realizes that she’ll be bearing the brunt of child-care duties. Older brother Eric must return to college or he’ll lose his scholarship, younger sister Louise has run away to live with her boyfriend at M.I.T., and Mom has been moved to a psychiatric hospital. So Hallie drops out of school and begins as best as she can to raise seven kids on the Palmers’s scant savings. Old friends lend a hand: Bernard Stockton and his boyfriend Gil offer the occasional gourmet meal and showtune-inspired pep talk; old poker buddies Officer Rich and bookie Cappy keep a watchful eye; and Uncle Lenny, a salty sailor the children adore, puts order and laughter back into the grieving household. Finally, Pastor Costello takes over and gives Hallie a much-needed break to work on her deteriorating love life. The two previous books were set among the Stocktons, rich eccentrics with whom Hallie stayed while sorting out her home life. Relegating this wacky clan to the background while Hallie’s large family takes center stage works to this story’s disadvantage. The author devotes many pages to describing the utter chaos created by a large family, but fails to provide the amusing details and memorable characters that would keep all those chores from becoming a chore to read about.

Pedersen is not at her best in this dull chronicle of family life.