A Peruvian maid upends a household in Gornick’s complex psychodrama.
For Myra, a psychoanalyst, order is the guiding principal of her life. The only child of austere, unloving parents, she has arranged her existence with exactitude. Although her cardiologist husband, Larry, long ago left her for an ever-younger succession of trophy wives, she is now content to live alone in her Manhattan brownstone, where she also sees patients and has recently taken up the piano. Her equilibrium is upset when a stranger—or strangers—comes to town. Her screenwriter son, Adam, his Moroccan wife, Rachida, a doctor, and their son, Omar, arrive from Detroit, and they will live with Myra while Rachida completes a residency. Myra’s daughter Caro, a preschool director with an eating disorder, is conflicted about her brother’s return. Until his marriage, Adam, who suffers from several phobias, was symbiotically dependent on his older sister. In need of domestic help, Myra hires Eva, recommended by a cousin in Peru. Eva, who comes from an abusive home (just how abusive will be a major plot determinant), is descended from Moroccan Jews, rubber traders who came to the Amazon and married native women. Although raised Catholic, Eva is seeking to reinforce her Jewish identity. Adam identifies with Eva’s quest, which jibes with one of his film obsessions, John Ford’s The Searchers. Secrets abound: Adam is also obsessed with gay porn magazines. Rachida is carrying on a lesbian affair with a colleague, and Caro still suffers the aftereffects of amorous adventures in Morocco (which led, indirectly, to her brother’s engagement). Emboldened by Myra’s professional empathy, Eva reveals that her father also loved porn, which prompted his molestation of Eva and led ultimately to her mother’s death. When Eva discovers Adam’s cache of smut, a catastrophe ensues that explodes the family’s carefully groomed complacency. But too many point-of-view characters, some in-your-face symbolism, and a soft-focus, partly redemptive ending dilute the impact of this psychologically authoritative second novel.
Flares up but fizzles too soon.