Storywriter Solwitz (Blood and Milk, 1997) offers a grim debut novel about an unhappy Chicago family starting to come apart at the seams.
On the surface, Claire Winger seems fine—the middle-aged wife of an eye surgeon, she works as a nurse in a children’s hospital, has two bright teenaged daughters, and lives in a pleasant upscale neighborhood of Chicago—but she has unexplained seizures that arise out of nowhere, not to mention a pervasive and equally inexplicable sense of foreboding. Medications help keep the seizures under control, but Claire still feels frequently anxious and out-of-sorts. Her elder daughter, Nora, a demure high-school sophomore increasingly drawn to Christianity, worries that her mother may be suicidal. Younger daughter Hadley notices Claire’s moodiness but is too obsessed with boyfriends and her own popularity to pay much attention. Meanwhile, husband Leo tries to help but is ineffectual by nature and worn down by Claire’s relentless neediness. When he hesitates to defend her from an armed thug on the street one night, a fatal gap opens up between them. Claire throws herself into an affair with Bodey Marcus, a self-centered acting teacher, and she pays less and less attention to her girls. This encourages Hadley to neglect her studies to such a degree that she’s soon on the verge of flunking. Eventually, Hadley runs away from home when Leo and Nora are out of town, and Claire has to call the police to look for her. Like much adolescent angst, Hadley’s discontent hints at a deeper problem—one having more to do with her parents than herself. When she comes home, will things improve? Does she even have a home to come back to?
Standard domestic drama, nicely constructed, with some good characters and a strong storyline, yet predictable and somewhat flat all the same.