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Domestic first novel with feminist overtones that labors unevenly--and at some moments soars compellingly. Late in her Brooklyn childhood (she was born in 1915), Rose Anne Beech discovers a talent for drawing that later takes her to art school in Philadelphia, where a fiercely demanding and uncompromising teacher elicits the real feeling she's capable of in her work--and finally, with his praise, anoints her as a true artist. Her art-passion takes her back to Brooklyn (after a summer, and affair, at an art-colony in Maine), where one Teddy Juroe (an insurance salesman) presses her fervently for marriage, though what he wants is children and what she wants is art. World War II intervenes, and the family is found afterward in suburban New Haven--Dad at the office, Mom painting in an upstairs room, and only child Alma showing signs of being gifted. Crisis comes, though, when Rose Anne receives a grant to go paint in Rome: left behind in New Haven, Dad falls head over heels for the charms of office-colleague Gloria, and 15-year-old Alma, as she increasingly feels her parents' betrayal, begins falling apart: there are sex, foul language, tobacco, and lies (she gets her mother home by pretending to be pregnant). Upon Rose Anne's return, husband Teddy falls off the roof (cleaning gutters), under sedation in the hospital gives every detail about the shamelessly libidinous Gloria, and Rose Anne sweeps Alma away with her to Philadelphia, where the broken Teddy follows, and, at end, there's ambiguous promise that the family may stay together after all, art and life coexisting. Large themes coupled with shallow characters make an odd mix here of the ludicrous ("" 'Are you really offering me some of that vile American coffee?' "" asks art-struck Rose Anne first thing home. ""'What I would do for a cappucino right now'"") and the dramatically compelling--as with young Alma's tortured sex-explorations, or desperate Teddy's half-dazed and Willy Loman-esque search through the streets of Philadelphia for his wife and daughter. ""He was exhausted from trying to be an adult,"" he thinks, and one applies his words to the book itself: a novel-in-the-rough, gangly but with an untutored power.

Pub Date: Oct. 28th, 1987
Publisher: North Point