Old Love

Margaret Erhart, Author
Margaret Erhart, Author Steerforth Press $24 (0p) ISBN 978-1-883642-07-5
Paperback - 246 pages - 978-1-883642-73-0
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With mixed results, Erhart (Augusta Cotton, 1992) uses five first-person narrators to explore issues of sexual identity and stifling emotional barriers as played out in suburban New Jersey during the turbulent 1960s. To a casual observer, the Haas family-mother Tommie, father Frank, son Brighton, daughter Helen-might appear the nuclear ideal. But Tommie's miserable, Frank's remote, Brighton broods and Helen tries to figure it all out. Tommie, it turns out, had a satisfying lesbian relationship with her college roommate, Jeanne Ann Love, and married Frank because, given the times, she believed she had no choice. Her best friend and next-door neighbor is Hal Chapin, who endured six months of an awful marriage before he could admit that he was gay. Brighton and Helen, tormented by their mother's misery and by their father's silence, struggle with the pains of adolescence and sexual questions of their own. The novel begins promisingly, especially with the engaging voice of the troubled Brighton; but after a while, the spectacle of all five main characters wrestling with similar sexual identity conflicts grows wearisome. Tommie begins drinking, and her frustration and confusion come to a climax on her 40th birthday, culminating in an accident that leads her to leave her family for a commune of women in Vermont. Eventual reconciliation with her family comes hard, though not as hard as the patience that a reader, despite Erhart's genuine compassion and insight, needs to finish this frustratingly elusive work. (May)
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