THE DOCTOR'S HOUSE

Ann Beattie, Author
Ann Beattie, Author . Scribner $24 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7432-1264-9
Reviewed on: 12/17/2001
Release date: 01/01/2002
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-7432-1466-7
Hardcover - 262 pages - 978-1-58547-199-7
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-7432-3501-3
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Beattie continues to prove herself one of our best contemporary writers of short stories, but she has rarely managed to attain the same level of achievement in her novels. Though her ability to make an ordinary situation completely fascinating is intermittently on display in her latest full-length effort, the contrived anglings of the plot ultimately sink this composite portrait of three family members linked by the traumatic events of their past. Siblings Nina and Andrew survived neglect and outright cruelty—their mother was an alcoholic and their father was a sadist and a philanderer—by banding together. Now Nina is a copy editor living in Cambridge, Mass., still grieving over the loss of her husband, who was killed in an accident. She has her hands full with the volatile, immature Andrew, who has been looking up women he knew in high school for a rather bizarre serial-sexual high school reunion. As much as she would like to be left alone, she is forced into the role of counselor to several of his conquests. The narration shifts briefly to Nina and Andrew's mother, who talks about her marriage to the tyrannical doctor and her difficulty connecting to the children, but mostly she indulges in "self-serving re-creations of her past." Andrew narrates the final section, offering his take on his family and the women he has been pursuing. What all three have in common is a hatred for the monster they once lived with. Unfortunately, the parallels of the siblings to the parents—Nina marries a doctor and later becomes withdrawn and bitter, Andrew is sexually compulsive—seem facile and, while the cumulative effect of their anecdotes is chilling, it's hard to feel much sympathy, since their gossip, self-pity and self-deception undermine the trauma. (Feb.)

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