THE REARRANGEMENT by Nancy Pelletier


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First-time novelist Pelletier begins her story in the Sixties. The place is an affluent Ohio suburb, and the heroine is Hannah Spencer Dawson, in her early 40's, wife of car-dealer Sam and mother of three. Everywhere around her Hannah sees society changing and the values, traditions and verities she was raised with being overturned. This gives her little support with which to face the expected crises of middle age: deaths and debility of parents, growing up and away of children. She feels even more helpless in the face of the unexpected ones: her 18-year-old son's confession that he is gay, her husband's infidelity and growing animosity toward her, her young teenager's being menaced by drugs. The instrument of Hannah's liberation is by now a familiar one: she enrolls in creative-writing and English courses. As a result, she also battles the misunderstanding of her more conventional women friends, the disdain and resentment of her husband, the reproaches of her arch-traditional mother. Encouragement comes from her professor (with whom she has a brief affair), and from her own growing sense of affinity with large issues from which her former life has insulated her: civil rights, Vietnam, feminism. But it takes a devastating personal tragedy, finally, to solidify her faith in the course she has chosen. By the book's end she has won a belief in herself, feels fit to take her place in the lineage of brave Spencer women. Though at times the novel's faithfulness to every detail of Hannah's world and sensibility make the reader feel at one with her; at other times, the book is realistic to the point of tedium. And the author shows an unfortunate tendency toward stereotype (white heterosexual men are seldom permitted sympathetic moments; gays, blacks, and rebellious teenagers are the people in whom genuine humanity resides). In spite of these weaknesses, though, there is an earnestness, a clear attempt at emotional honesty, about this book that ultimately makes it moving.

Pub Date: June 21st, 1985
Publisher: Macmillan