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Hemley follows his short story collection (All You Can Eat, 1988) with this first novel about a dysfunctional family. Lois and Willy Kulwicki are about to break up. Lois will move out of their South Bend, Indiana, home with their kids, Gall and Meg, so that Willy's new ""girl"" Alice can move in. Meanwhile, the parents will continue giving as much love to objects as to their daughters, Willy ""reconditioning"" the Studebaker wrecks in their yard, Lois acquiring useless collectibles at garage sales. Whether their separate interests are cause or symptom of their troubles is unclear, as is the cause of LOIS's instability--has she ever recovered from the most shocking year of her childhood, 1963? That was when Studebaker's South Bend plant shut down; her father Rudy, a company man, couldn't cope with his dismissal, and her mother dumped him, just like that, outside a Stuckey's in West Virginia. At any rate, life gets worse when Lois and daughters move into their new (leased) home. Its owner, a sad sack called Henry Martin, suddenly shows up in the kitchen. Henry has been a basket case since his near-death in a car crash, and Lois's decision to shelter him fragments the family further as teenager Gail turns spiteful. Lois flips, blowing the grocery money on a phonograph at an estate sale and then, in shame and confusion, hitting the road for West Virginia, where she has a cheerless reunion with her father before being retrieved by Henry and the kids. Dippy LoIS, weird Henry, and mean-spirited Gaff make for depressing company, the domestic-crisis novel calls for a greater delicacy of calibration than Hemley's.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Graywolf