PLUM AND JAGGERS by Susan Richards Shreve


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Prolific novelist Shreve (The Visiting Physician, 1996, etc.) works here from a highly original premise: a family of orphaned children develops a hit television show to comically display their grief.

James and Lucy McWilliams were happy vagabonds in the 1960s and early ’70s, toting their children around the globe doing good works until killed by a bomb on a train. Raised by their grandparents in the States, Sam and his three younger siblings have a fairly happy childhood. Terrorism-obsessed Sam serves as their unofficial protector, keeping a close eye on all their activities and creating a strangely insular bond among them. When Sam is sent to a correctional home (for stealing tools to build a bomb shelter), he begins writing plays. Eventually he creates Plum & Jaggers, a series of skits about four children at a dining table—with a bomb underneath it—whose parents never show up. Giving his characters the names of people who died in terrorist attacks, and taking his title from nicknames his parents gave one another, Sam finds the skits a menacing form of catharsis. The Plum & Jaggers Comedy Troupe, starring the four McWilliams children, is a resounding success. The troupe moves from small venues to Broadway to a slot on NBC, but in their success lies a great wound: though adults, they have always lived together, have few outside relationships, and only dream of a life away from Sam’s growing tyranny. His paranoia seems justified, however, when someone begins stalking them, and the siblings’ fears are reflected in the increasingly dark episodes they produce while waiting for the inevitable bomb (i.e., Sam) to explode.

An odd, touching family drama.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-374-23462-0
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2000


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