OFF BALANCE by Mary Sheepshanks


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An engaging psychological drama from Sheepshanks (Picking Up the Pieces, 1999, etc.) that pits two sisters against each other for the man they love.

Isobel and Giles Grant have a lovely life: Living in Giles’s grand ancestral Scottish home, the good-natured couple devote their days to caring for their challenging ten-year-old twins (Amy is a precocious and gifted violinist, while Edward suffers from autism) and bringing to fruition their dream of creating an arts center in the estate’s private theater. Though not without difficulties, the home is filled with love, especially from Mick and Joss, a gay couple who help with the house and grounds, and most importantly with the enigmatic Edward. Into the idyll comes Lorna, Isobel’s recently divorced sister, coming to Scotland ostensibly to sort out her life but really to win back Giles, an old flame from college. To Sheepshanks’s credit, Lorna is no simple home-wrecking villain; prettier and smarter than the younger, vivacious, and fun-loving Isobel, she is nevertheless consistently overshadowed by her sister, creating in Lorna a difficult combination of admiration and almost crushing resentment. The Grants agree to Lorna’s helping with arrangements for the grand opening of the theater, and what ensues has dire consequences for all involved. Into the threesome is thrown a fourth when Daniel Hoffman is commissioned to paint backdrops. His affability charms all, though especially, and dangerously, Isobel. Despite the soap-operatic trappings, events and emotions escalate realistically, providing a shrewd analysis of how easily a sheltered happiness can slip away. Lorna, an efficient organizer for the theater, ingratiates herself with Giles, and Isobel, though fully aware that her husband is on the brink of an affair, is first paralyzed by anger, then satiated by Daniel’s kind attentions. The likable people here ache for a happy ending but are instead handed a decidedly creepy one, again to the author’s credit.

A well-realized examination of family and marriage that begs for a sequel.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-26813-0
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2001


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