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Three generations of midwestern women deal with the loss of idyllic first love; in her second novel, Morris (Vanishing Animals, 1979; Crossroads, 1982; Nothing to Declare, 1988) dips erratically into the past, and comes up empty-handed. It's 1973, or thereabouts; 30-ish Zoe Coleman is returning to her hometown of Brewerton, Wisconsin, to see her younger brother Badger, a draft-dodger, now back from Canada; Badger is in a clinic, apparently insane after too many bad drug trips. Zoe and June, her mother, visit Badger a few times; later they travel to Florida to interview Badger's traveling-companion in Canada; at the end, Zoe falls (too easily) in love with Badger's shrink, while Badger's condition remains unchanged. These interactions pale beside the violent melodrama of the past. We learn that Zoe's grandmother Naomi left Russia at 15 to avoid the pogroms; that her husband, a fellow-exile, was shot to death on their wedding day; that she later married a motel-owner; that her daughter June saw her half-brother fall to his death through a window; that June then married his best friend Cal, a photographer, survivor of a gruesome train-crash that killed both his parents; that after three wonderful years, Cal went off to WW II and returned a broken man, secure only in his darkroom; that June innocently sought comfort from Cal's generous-hearted friend Sam; that ten-year-old Zoe spied on them, and made this the big secret of her life; that Zoe too lost her young lover to war, this time Vietnam. The reader searches in vain for a point of entry into this family of sad women and even sadder, nonfunctioning men. The problem is that the past is delivered in long, petrified stretches of synopsis, while the present is just vapid (Zoe's revelation to her mother of her 20-year-old secret is pure bathos). Morris has yet to show the mastery of the novel that she has demonstrated over the memoir and short story.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1989
ISBN: 385-26169-1
Publisher: Doubleday
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