Jennifer Haigh, Author . Morrow $24.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-050939-2

The three women who successively marry Ken Kimble all believe they've found the perfect partner, and all are proven wrong in Haigh's uneven debut. Birdie is a student at a Southern Bible college in the early 1960s when she meets Kimble, then a handsome young choir director; they marry less than a year later, a day before she turns 19. After seven unfaithful years of marriage, Ken walks out on Birdie and their two young children, leaving the hard-drinking Birdie impoverished. Ken next surfaces in Florida in 1969, engaged to a formerly ambitious coed who dropped out of college to travel the country with him. He summarily dumps her to court 39-year-old Joan Cohen, a strong-willed Newsweek reporter who is recovering from breast cancer surgery. He marries her (after falsely telling her that he's Jewish) and joins her rich uncle in his real estate business. A few years and one miscarriage later, the marriage has quietly soured, and a few years after that Joan has a recurrence of cancer and dies. Ken's third wife is the much-younger Dinah, who used to be his children's baby-sitter. This marriage survives Ken's rise to prominence in Washington, D.C., as the founder of a successful charity. Haigh's women are believable, if a touch clichéd, but Ken is a cipher. Haigh leaves us guessing about his motivations, and his irresistible appeal to these women—especially the tough-minded Joan—also remains murky. The novel has sharply incisive passages, but Haigh's thin characterizations don't quite live up to the promise of the clever, intricate premise. #1 Book Sense selection for March/April; Author tour. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 02/17/2003
Release date: 02/01/2003
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