STAYING AFLOAT by Muriel Spanier


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Set in the contrasting worlds of upscale, professional Manhattan and craftsy, ""all natural"" Vermont, Spanier's first novel vividly renders a mature contemporary woman's anguished struggle to reconcile herself to the death of her only child. Widowed eight years before the novel opens, Sylvie Weyman has made a new life for herself, complete with a career in real estate and a devoted, empathic lover. Her grown daughter, Angel, around whom Sylvie's true world has always centered, has temporarily sidelined her more worldly ambitions in order to play mistress/nursemaid to an unappealing and hapless young man who has set himself up as a sometimes craftsman in Vermont. When Angel dies in childbirth, however, all meaning and coherence are shattered for Sylvie, who plunges into a vortex of ritualistic self-denial--fasting, punishing exercise--contrived to anesthetize a psychic pain that threatens to destroy her. In an effort literally to escape her self and all the familiar furnishings of that self, Sylvie takes a job as a live-in ""household assistant"" to Margo and Michael Kort, she an art dealer and he a significantly successful engineer. With their haphazardly furnished brownstone, Margo's invalid parents, a bright, tightly scheduled six-year-old daughter, and the ominous opening strains of discord that have begun to vibrate through their marriage, the Korts, rather than allowing Sylvie to transcend reality, inexorably call her back precisely to life and the saving graces of family ties. When Sylvie dramatically executes a reunion with the grandchild Angel died delivering, her ""cure"" has truly begun, and the psychosis of loss and grief lifts from her life. All in all, a controlled and inventive novel that offers up a quirky but resonant view of the world, replete with characters whose stories the author is able to make us care about a great deal. An auspicious debut by a writer who's worth watching.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Random House