Like China

Varley O'Connor, Author
Varley O'Connor, Author William Morrow & Company $19.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-688-09444-7
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Motherless eight-year-old Peter Kramer and his teenage brothers hardly seem candidates to be friends with ex-model Katha Pinnell, yet their lives interconnect in a first novel that manages to convey the feelings of both youth and adulthood, and the transitions between them. Katha, married too young to the charming but abusive Tommy, is struggling to find the strength to walk away from her violent marriage. The boys, abandoned by their father, scrabble to survive in their East Hampton (N.Y.) community and to define their respective identities. Middle brother Sam displays the emotional scars from too little attention and inadequate role models, and his instability threatens whatever security the eldest, Big Dan, can provide for his brothers, mainly through thievery. Big Dan commands attention through his brooding self-awareness and refusal to repeat his father's mistakes, even if that choice ties him to his siblings. Peter is the story's compass. While struggling with his own sense of the world, he is drawn to the sensitive Katha; he also prefers Big Dan's aloof maturity over Sam's bragging and weak schemes. While some of her insights are a bit too convenient, generally O'Connor's debut effectively limns human growth. (Feb.)
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