WITHIN ARM'S REACH

Ann Napolitano, Author . Crown/Shaye Areheart $23 (308p) ISBN 978-1-4000-5188-5

In Napolitano's wonderful first novel, deftly told from six points of view, a New Jersey family bears witness to the cycle of life. The matriarch of the Irish-American McLaughlin clan, Catharine, is living in a care facility, her "whole life [in] one room." On the other end of the spectrum, Catharine's unmarried granddaughter, Gracie, is pregnant by a man she doesn't love. The news is a surprise: Gracie wishes she'd conceived immaculately; her sister, Lila, can't believe Gracie's pregnant again; and Catharine has hangups about illegitimacy. Napolitano gracefully and honestly charts the tensions as the various family members come together. "We are family, but we have very little in common except that we are terrible at small talk," muses Lila at an Easter gathering. "[W]e size each other up and glance for the nearest exit and wonder, Why are you here? Why am I here? " Gracie's unborn child promises both conflict and hope. As Catharine, haunted by loving ghosts of the past, recalls, "There was order to our family then, and small children running around filling the rooms with laughter.... [W]hen the baby comes, when the laughter of children fill our rooms again, everything will settle down. This family will be whole." Catharine's hopes becomes the readers' hopes as well, as they watch her family—her "life's work"—grow and endure. Agent, Elaine Koster . (July)

Reviewed on: 06/14/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
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