CROOKED HEARTS by Robert Boswell


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A family portrait whose undercoat is the clearest heartache: the Warrens of Yuma, Arizona. . .and before that Kentucky, and before that again Arizona. The father, Edward, is a school principal brought low by his weak flesh (affairs, even one with a student), demoted to a driver's-ed teacher. Jill, the wife, is a part-time realtor, once a political idealist, strong but semi-dazed. The kids--Charley, Tom, Ask, and Cassie--have learned the general ways of family coping: the Warrens have the disconcerting but lifesaving habit, for instance, of giving drinking parties at bad news--of which there's always plenty, such as when Tom flunks out of Berkeley. But there's never a party for Charley, the eldest and the goldenest, who somehow, mysteriously, goes very awry and turns psychotic (he'll burn down the family home). Bearing a very close resemblance to Larry Woiwode's Beyond the Bedroom Wall, Boswell's first novel (his story collection, Dancing in the Movies (1986), contained the first chapter here) lacks Woiwode's density: told by each family member with a sort of feckless detail (suggesting intimacy but more often eluding meaning), the voices are too much the same; and with nothing stylistic separating one Warren from another, it's disconcerting. Yet what finally does impress--along with a moving ending that flirts with melodrama but doesn't fall in--is the sheer, worrying attention Boswell pays to his people. Even if they and their reactions seem less than fully credible, they are under the eye of a truly loving novelist, willing to give them the leeway of any mistake. Too loosey-goosey, occasionally forced--but it does have this grace.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1987
Publisher: Knopf