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In an intriguing if fuzzily impressionistic first novel, Toppel explores a few years in the life of an affluent American family living in Puerto Rico and New York, telling their story in the alternating voices of three children. ""I trust water,"" confesses 25-year-old Clarissa Lyon. ""I know my limitations in water."" From the time they are children, growing up pampered in San Juan, Clarissa, Cora, and Michael Lyon live in a world of subtle emotions and complicated emotional bonds. Their father is the rich American owner of an ever-expanding chain of grocery stores--social, cultured about wine and music, Jewish. Their mother is a brooding European Catholic, obsessed with her children and shadowed by murky wartime memories. For a time, Clarissa appears to be special to their father because she is graceful and proud and plays Bach like a prodigy. By the time Clarissa is a moody teen, however, younger Cora gets sick with a life-threatening disease that doctors insist is psychosomatic. Partly for Cora's sake and partly to expand his business, the adventurous father packs the family off to N.Y.C. From there, Clarissa decamps for Middlebury, while her mother and brother and sister languish on the Upper East Side. Soon, Father has flown the coop, abandoning a suffocating marriage for the tropical magic of Bat Island, a tiny tropical refuge that seems to hold special memories for him. In clue course, the nature of those memories--the source of his special tie to Clarissa--is revealed, jolting the family to yet a new level of emotional intensity. A charming and atmospheric tale marred by a glaring shortcoming--each narrator sounds indistinguishable from the others in style and consciousness, lulling the action and sense of dramatic consequence like an indolent tropical breeze.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1992
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster