FAMILY HOLIDAY by Patricia Burstein


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The arrested emotional development in some Jewish-American families has often been successfully played for laughs, savage and otherwise; but the comic touches are all too few in this dreary treatment--which mixes lots of therapy-chat (""She had wanted to become her own person,"" etc.) with an incongruous dollop of penny-dreadful suspense. First-novelist Burstein's heroine is 30-year-old N.Y. feature-reporter Leslie Rittman, whose boyfriend has gone away to California. (""I tried to love you, but could not dislodge my father from my psyche."") So lonely Leslie, masturbating with her vibrator, decides once again to join her family for a lush winter vacation in the Caribbean--even though she's loaded with ambivalent feelings about sweetly clinging Mother, pretty sister Rebecca, smart-aleck brother Jason (with WASP wife Holly), and. . . Father, a rich, tough, demanding federal judge who ""infected his wife and children with a belief that they were all inferior and second-rate minds."" Leslie's pallid broodings on her inability to outgrow this crippling yet comfy family setup are the novel's chief substance, then. But Burstein fills out the book with mildly satiric details of the resort scene--and with a desperately tacked-in melodrama: Leslie loses $10,000 at gambling, can't pay, won't ask the family for help, and therefore winds up having rough sex with the casino manager. . . who in fact wants not only ""a few fast fucks"" but also an illegal favor from Judge Rittman. Unfortunately, this contrived plot--implausible at every turn--merely highlights the sketchy confusion of the psychological portrait here. And a final spot of violence is almost comically arbitrary. So this remains short-story material at most, ineffectual except for a few ironic observations, and with none of the power that writers like Mary Gordon (or, recently, Alice McDermott) have brought to the complex father/daughter bind.

Pub Date: March 11th, 1982
Publisher: Morrow