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Like McFall's debut, The One True Story of the World (1990), this meandering novel features a troubled woman with a witty voice and a sad family history. It also poses a question that begs to be asked in today's publishing world: Is it crass to say dysfunction has grown into a dull subject? On her 39th birthday, Sarah Blight loses an eye in a barroom fight with a former lover's new girlfriend. To make matters worse, Blight is a photographer, and she compares relearning her craft with one orb to ""lovemaking after a mastectomy."" Later that same year, her brother is accused of having murdered his ex-wife, her grandmother dies, and she is diagnosed with manic depression and ""secondary alcoholism."" These misfortunes -- and many others -- read more like country-and-western lyrics than a novel. The incidents are strung together loosely; they carry weighty symbolic import and are embellished with pretty touches, but are rarely credible. The narrator's name is only one example of this book's strong-arm sensibility. Blight's son writes violent letters home from Europe bearing titles like ""I-Broke-My-Fist-for-Love-of-You Blues."" Her former husband -- now married to someone else but still trysting with her periodically -- is deeply angered when she reveals that she once cheated on him during their marriage. Both her dealings with a doctor who prescribes lithium and Prozac and her flashbacks of growing up with her violent brother, who killed cats for entertainment, give fictional life to modern pop psychology without adding anything. Blight's doubts about her brother's involvement with the murder, and her indecision about opening or not opening a metal box that might contain evidence, are hollow given the siblings' cold relationship. Sometimes McFall is funny, but even the clever turns of phrase get lost in the muck. Like alcohol -- can cause laughter but rapidly evaporates.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Chronicle