The author of The Shape of Things to Come (2001) returns with her second novel.
Samantha Hennart is a poet who no longer writes poetry. It’s been at least 20 years since she has composed a line, and she’s not much of a wife or mother, either, and, when she falls to the kitchen floor as an aneurysm explodes in her brain, her family is scattered. Her husband, Bernard, left when he found her having sex with the “hippy carpenter” hired to renovate their bathroom. Her 25-year-old son, Ryan, is across the country in California and relieved to have finally separated himself from his dysfunctional family. And her daughter, Marguerite, 18, is—unbeknownst to anyone—in a mental hospital. This is the story of their history before Sam’s aneurysm and the collective fate that awaits them after it. Casey’s debut was widely praised as ambitious and accomplished. Her second feels self-consciously literary. Every page is filled with lyrical turns that don’t quite convince. The author pushes her characters to dazzle and charm. In one early scene, Sam doesn’t just call her family to dinner, she proclaims, “No more drifting in and out. No more eating in front of the television. No more blah, blah, blah, fuzzy around the edges.” Marguerite—who is named for a medieval mystic—is mesmerized by her brother’s nose, which is not just his nose but his “miraculous nose.” Bernard describes his wife’s forehead as “revelatory”—repeatedly. Indeed, this is a family given to erudite in-jokes and well-worn epithets, but what, exactly, does Sam’s forehead reveal? The fact that we are left without a clue means either that the reader is not worthy of joining the Hennart clique or that Bernard’s rhapsodizing is empty of actual meaning, just as the characters in this novel are not actual people but a series of pretentious poses and ostentatious tics.
A bit too much, yet not enough.