HOUSE LIGHTS by Leah Hager Cohen


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A wannabe actress confronts dramas that disable her high-achieving family in this heartfelt third novel from the Massachusetts author (Without Apology: Girls, Women, and the Desire to Fight, 2005, etc.).

When 20-year-old Beatrice Fisher-Hart is granted a free year to live at home and pursue her thespian dreams, she crosses a hitherto firmly drawn line by reestablishing contact with her maternal grandmother Margaret Fourcey, a celebrated stage actress from whom “Bebe’s” mother—Cambridge psychologist Sarah—has been estranged for many years. As Bebe becomes a regular at Margaret’s Beacon Hill “salon,” her growing intimacy with its beautiful people is compromised by two unconventional relationships: her May-December crush on middle-aged theater director Hale Rubin, and baffled feelings about the mess into which her father Jeremy (also a psychologist and a college teacher) has again gotten himself—by making inappropriately suggestive remarks to yet another female student. Bebe’s confusions are further exacerbated as she learns more of the family history that divides her mother and grandmother, and they come to a head during a summer spent at a farm in the Berkshires, where the production in which Hale has cast her—as one of several classic lovers who defied convention—is rehearsed and performed. It’s somewhat surprising when the novel leaps ahead nearly 30 years for a muted ending that reveals choices and compromises Bebe has made, and the partial relaxation of her anger toward her errant, needy father. Cohen, who practices a domestic realism that has earned her comparisons to Sue Miller and Anne Tyler (but is actually closer to that of Elizabeth Berg and Luanne Rice), writes smoothly and with genuine conviction. But her well-manicured fiction has few lifelike rough edges, and even its most emotional moments feel superficial and overfamiliar.

Not as dramatic as Cohen clearly intends it to be.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-393-06451-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2007


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