We Had It So Good

Linda Grant, Scribner, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4516-1740-5
Grant, whose The Clothes on Their Backs was shortlisted for the Man Booker, again focuses on American Rhodes scholar Stephen Newman over the years from 1950s England to near modern-day. Stephen, who lives in England with his British wife, is a hippie, a disappointed scientist who makes acid, and a successful, then obsolescent producer for the BBC. Told with a mixture of distance and intimacy, this novel assembles a sweeping history of both personal and cultural events: traumatic childhoods, late illnesses, Vietnam, 9/11. There's a richness of character in not only Stephen, who's rather unlikable, but in his magician son, antisocial daughter, analyst wife, even their friends. Grant has a talent for making emptiness meaningful in her characters—silences are induced by shame, the impossibility of communication and understanding, the literal deafness that overtakes Stephen's son. Yet the novel ends feeling less epic and complex and more scattered and abrupt because the thread meant to hold it together—Stephen's life—is one of its least compelling aspects. It's a testament, then, that one finishes wishing Grant had given this family more room to breathe. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/07/2011
Release date: 04/01/2011
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