PAPER WINGS by Marly Swick


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 A moving first novel, about family life and its challenges and discontents, from an acclaimed short-story writer (The Summer Before the Summer of Love, 1995, etc.). It's the story of the Keller family of Madison, Wisconsin, throughout the 1960s and, briefly, afterward--especially during the watershed year 1963, when 12-year-old Suzanne Keller's high-strung mother Helen (that's right), helplessly mourning the death of her idol John F. Kennedy, retreats into the pattern of depression and eccentricity believed to date from her adolescence, when Helen's parents were killed in an automobile accident. The novel thereafter weaves forward and backward in time, as Suzanne (who narrates) recalls and evaluates her beautiful, unstable mother's effects on her patient husband Glen (a curious, conscientious optometrist), Suzanne'sclothes-and-boycrazy older sister Bonnie, and a vividly characterized clutch of neighbors and best friends, including a farmhouse full of disapproving paternal in-laws whose intolerant views of the free-spirited Helen emerge during a stingingly evoked Thanksgiving dinner. Swick's beautifully controlled plot shifts into high gear when Helen ``escapes'' with Suzanne in tow on an unannounced trip to her Nebraska hometown, and especially as the latter begins to piece together the long-buried facts of her mother's girlhood losses and later traumas. The car trip episode is perhaps a trifle too reminiscent of Mona Simpson's Anywhere But Here, and Swick's generally successful use of '60s touchstone movies and music and culture references to denote specific years betray her into what seem like anachronisms (was the term ``wimp'' around much in 1963? was the phrase ``it really sucks'' really current in 1969?). These are the only blemishes on a novel that renders the stuttering momentum of family dynamics with equally warm emotion and relentless clarity. A heartening breakthrough into the longer form by a writer who's already a short-story master, and grows more accomplished with each book she produces. (Regional author tour)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-06-017434-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996


FictionEVENING NEWS by Marly Swick
by Marly Swick