Cool's Ridge

Ursula Perrin, Author
Ursula Perrin, Author Permanent Press (NY) $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-877946-68-4
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With its breezy insights and moments of unexpected humor, Perrin's sixth novel (after The Looking-Glass Lover, 1989) is most engaging when it focuses on Liz Stillwell's search for asylum from the sudden eruption of tragedy and discord in her upper-middle-class family. Less involving are the easily typed characters and the heroine's inexplicable romantic life. The novel opens in the summer of 1972, as narrator Liz, 25, arrives at Cool's Ridge, a communal farm in northwest N.J. that Skip Loomis, her longtime yet curiously detached lover, inhabits with six friends. Anti-war politics serve as little more than a colorful backdrop for the unfolding story; and after the early chapters, Perrin drops the hipster slang and nostalgic descriptions of period garb to concentrate on the mounting pressures that Liz faces as her parents divorce and her family is impoverished in an effort to get treatment for her schizophrenic brother. Inside the ""family"" at Cool's Ridge, Liz is equally stressed, confronting tensions arising from her anemic courtship and marriage to Skip and from her love-hate relationship with Leonard Gannet, a brooding, bearish man who acts like a countercultural Heathcliff (which man Liz winds up with is no surprise). Despite its energy and the deft plumbing of the unexpectedly bourgeois anxieties at Cool's Ridge, the novel loses its focus in a quagmire of improbable relationships and busy plot devices. (Mar.)
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