Errands

Judith Guest, Author Ballantine Books $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-345-40904-1
The specter and aftermath of death haunt a family, as they did in Ordinary People, Guest's classic of family dysfunction. Here, however, it's the father, not the son, who dies. After a cancerous brain tumor kills Keith Browner, his family reels from the sudden loss. Annie, his wife of 17 years, is so grief-stricken that she appears unable to meet the task of raising and supporting her three children in the Detroit suburbs. Her kids are trapped in a web of mourning and preadolescent angst. Harry, 12, is rebellious and guilt-ridden in his new role as man of the house. Jimmy, 11, is a loner. Nine-year-old Julie keeps a journal, trying desperately to make sense of all that is happening around her. Jess, Annie's sister, tries to help, but she's saddled with problems of her own, including a frustrating relationship with a married man. Annie resists all help as she gradually loses control of her life. Until the end, when some hope of recovery begins, each member of the family parcels out emotions tentatively, as alert as prey, certain that too much commitment will not go unpunished. In an epigraph, Guest writes that she prefers The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary's definition of the word ""errand"" as a ""Journey made for a special purpose; an expedition; a mission."" But her novel does not bear out that epic impulse. It never mounts a convincing expedition of the soul into the country beyond death and grief. While Guest has a fine ear for dialogue, especially in the family clashes, she lights no sparks of theme or character that might have propelled this earnest novel out of the realm of one-dimensional suburban melodrama. Major ad/promo; Literary Guild main and Doubleday Book Club alternate selections; author tour. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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FORMATS
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-679-45926-2
Paperback - 624 pages - 978-0-679-77419-8
Paperback - 978-0-7838-8060-0
Mass Market Paperbound - 978-0-345-42390-0
Mass Market Paperbound - 978-0-517-28779-8
Paperback - 978-0-517-40498-0
Hardcover - 978-0-517-27831-4
Mass Market Paperbound - 366 pages - 978-0-345-40905-8
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