Rowing in Eden

Elizabeth Evans, Author
Elizabeth Evans, Author HarperCollins $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-019550-2
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-06-095470-3
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It's the summer of '65 in Pynch Lake, Iowa, when Evans's perceptive coming-of-age novel opens. The Wahl family are year-round residents in the summer-tourist town: Peg Wahl, a faded beauty queen, and her appropriately named husband, Brick, an alcohol-soaked lawyer who doesn't pay his bills, have always been stars in the community's small social firmament. But now their two college-age daughters are taking over center stage. Rosamund is sought out by a former suitor of Peg's, and Martie is quickly blossoming into a reckless party girl. Nearly invisible in the glare of emotional turbulence is 13-year-old Franny, the youngest Wahl daughter, who observes the world around her with an adolescent's fantasies and misconceptions. Trouble arrives in the form of reckless college freshman Ryan Marvell, who takes a romantic shine to Franny, precipitating shocked disapproval from her peers and one family disaster after another. By having Franny chart her own unique course between the examples of her two sisters (nice-girl Rosamund is discreetly boy-crazy , while Martie is more overtly rebellious), the novel goes beyond the sentimentality of a '60s era coming-of-age tale. Evans knows the language of teenage confusion well, and Franny's resiliency is appealing. Depicting the domestic chatter, tensions and emotional shifts of the Wahl family unit, Evans creates a textured portrait of one family's painful acclimation to changing sexual mores. Ryan's passionate attraction to the decidedly immature, if charming, Franny is never quite convincing, however, and without this essential credibility, the novel falls short of its potential. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. Author tour. (Aug.)
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