MARINE LIFE by Linda Svendsen


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 A debut collection of eight linked stories more or less supports the notion that ``there are no happy marriages...only unexamined ones.'' And these tales of incest, suicide, cancer, alcoholism, divorce, and madness are as cheerful as a Bergman movie, with much of the same Protestant angst. Svendsen's bleak terrain is Vancouver, where her working-class family leads its life of gloomy desperation. The narrator, Adele Nordstrom, wanders through thirtysomething years of domestic memories, profiling her screwy half-siblings and step-relatives as well as her thrice-married mother, June, a lounge pianist who's determined never to be without a man. Along the way, Adele reveals herself to be smart and sharp-tongued and destined to leave the dull Northwest. After years of admiring her manly half-brother Ray, she realizes, in ``Who He Slept By,'' that he ``might be an asshole''--a shiftless drunk and womanizer. ``Flight'' concerns half-sister Joyce, a young married woman abandoned by her husband, who then sinks into depression and madness. A family holiday, ``Boxing Day,'' proves an unsurprising disaster, as tension mounts between Adele's mother and her younger husband, Robert. ``Heartbeat'' and the title story suggest the reasons for Adele's own failure at marriage--her insane jealousy, her passivity. By the time of ``Belgium,'' she's a divorced mother of two living in Brooklyn, who comes West when her other half-sister Irene, long considered the family's ``lone success'' in marital affairs, develops cancer in her early 40s. The truth of her domestic situation turns out to be the greatest horror of all. Despite the throbbing downbeat, Svendsen's slim volume is distinguished by sharp, economical prose and a voice we want to hear more from.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-374-10088-8
Page count: 180pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1992


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