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Miss Gallant writes with such wit, perception and skill that it is a pity that this first ""novel"" isn't better as a whole. Actually it is four short stories written around the nervous breakdown of Florence McCarthy Harris. Flor is the daughter of a foolish and selfish former belle, Bonnie, whose husband divorced her (and in effect Flor) when she had an affair with a man she didn't even love. Because of the scandal, Bonnie took Flor off to Europe and raised her, rather haphazardly, there. Bonnie hangs on to Flor at the same time that she avoids all maternal responsibility for her. All of this has a disastrous effect on Flor, which a marraige when she is 24, to a Jewish businessman despised by her mother, does little to help. The first section is told through the eyes of Flor's cousin, George, and concentrates on a day in Venice when he was 7 and Flor was 14. The second section, the least like a short story in structure, gives the most moving, direct and complex view of Flor's relationship with her mother and her husband and leads directly up to the breakdown. The third section, an excellent short story which reads as though the whole book sprang from it, goes back to the summer when Flor met her husband. And the last section shows George again, now 19, having dinner with Flor's mother and husband after she has gone to a sanitarium. Probably this odd organization is meant to show a fragmented personality, but the fragmentation happens to the novel and not to Flor.... Portions of the book appeared in The New Yorker and while it is not altogether successful, it should appeal to readers of taste and sensibility.

Publisher: Houghton, Mifflin