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A disappointing first novel in which mercy killing, civil rights, the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, Vietnam, alcohol abuse, unwed motherhood, and a host of other issues add up to not very much. The Gregorys seem to be the perfect family: Robert, the father, the humane managing editor of a local newspaper; his wife, Margaret, the working-class girl who married him; daughter Judith, bossy, yes, but also California blonde and beautiful, a former champion swimmer and a crusading attorney for the poor; middle child Christine, a little immature, perhaps, but dark and shapely and successful as a fashion designer; son Edward, precocious as a child and now winning a reputation as a play-wright. But guess what? They're not so perfect after all! And trying to be perfect is an awful strain! When Judith Gregory goes on trial, charged with murdering her terminally ill mother, years of unspoken family conflicts--centered around the 60's protest era but dating back still earlier--are revealed through memories and letters. Only Judith's best friend--the black, beautiful, brilliant, and totally superlative Sara--seems to have ever understood what was going on. But not to worry. There's an explanation for everything, and all is revealed to the reader--usually more than once as the same scenes and dialogue are replayed again and again as each character thinks back: slight shifts in vantage point that are not so much illuminating as tediously repetitive. For enrichment, there are epigraphs from Wordsworth's ""Ode: Intimations of Immortality,"" and the discovery that Edward's play (called The Perfect Family, though he would have preferred a phrase from the aforementioned Ode), is an avantgarde study of people who love each other but don't say what they mean or understand each other very well! In all, a straggle to be Significant.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1988
Publisher: Dutton