DALE LOVES SOPHIE TO DEATH by Robb Forman Dew
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DALE LOVES SOPHIE TO DEATH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Dew's first novel, impressive in many ways, looks at first like a lot of other similar books: a youngish wife and mother's dawning recognition of the manifest, stifling unfairness of her life. For eight summers, Dinah Howell has been renting a house in the Ohio town in which she grew up, Enfield. The house is not far from her mother's home, and it's just across the street from that of her distant, divorced father--a psychiatrist who was shot years earlier in a motel-based scandal, the paltry details of which at last become clear to Dinah during this eighth summer. This summer is different, you see, because Dinah's husband has returned home to Massachusetts to teach college summer session, thus leaving Dinah with sole charge of the children--Toby, David, Sarah--and with a wish to ""put an order to all [her family's] lives, to set them straight in their pattern,"" to extract from her parents and hometown ""an apology. . . acknowledgment of all the injustices of her childhood."" What is special, however, about Dinah--and Dew's approach--is that her eyes do not steadily open to her situation; in fact, they keep closing, in a sort of logy surrender. Dinah keeps not seeing her family plain, an obliquity of attention that culminates in the real illness of son Toby (he'll have to be hospitalized)--an illness which Dinah had wrongly pegged as the child's aping, hypochondriac desire to get close to his grandfather. This characterization angle is fresh and impressive; to Dew's credit, furthermore, she regularly follows each of Dinah's moods to its end, not merely until its virtue as a literary device is exhausted. But Dinah (and sometimes son Toby) is all we ever have in focus: everyone else is halo-ed too fuzzily in the background. Also, certain Jamesian echoes--of high fine feeling--are overdone; a friend says: ""You've always known, haven't you, Dinah. . . . Well, and the thing is, you've always been able to do it, just sit back and do it! You've always known that it's much better to be more sinned against than sinning."" And the family-as-haven motif with which the book ends may strike you as too snugly tailored a justification for a largely powdery narrative--albeit one swirled into frequently lovely patterns. You come away, finally, with the sense of a stylist testing out her voice on a small chamber piece. But this flawed, distinguished first novel does more than promise--it very nearly guarantees fine fiction from Dew in the future.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1981
ISBN: 0316890669
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux