Matters of Chance

Jeannette Haien, Author HarperCollins Publishers $25 (439p) ISBN 978-0-06-017003-5
The word ""old-fashioned"" becomes a positive term when applied to this meticulously observed, quietly paced and deeply satisfying novel. Haien, the septuagenarian whose first novel, The All of It, earned critical praise a decade ago, here celebrates old-fashioned values--honor, duty, service, dignity, fidelity, tradition--in a leisurely, discursive narrative that chronicles lives lived well and destinies achieved. Morgan and Maud Shurtliff come from old Ohio families of high moral standards and decent impulses; they have been schooled since childhood to understand that affluence carries the responsibility of noblesse oblige. Their marriage is passionate, though initially marred by Maud's inability to have children, then blessed by twin girls adopted with the help of eccentric Miss Zenobia Sly. Morgan does the honorable thing and enlists in WWII, serving on a Liberty ship that is torpedoed in the Indian Ocean, where the crew endures several harrowing days in a lifeboat before being rescued. (Haien renders shipboard life, shore visits to exotic ports and the crucible of battle with bedrock credibility.) The war and his brush with death are watershed events for Morgan; he bonds with men from other social classes who liberate him from a cloistered view of the world. He also secretly corresponds with Zenobia Sly; their platonic but intimate friendship is one of the few anomalies in Morgan's ordered life, which is pervaded by domestic tranquillity, parental pride and career success as a highly respected lawyer. Haien deliberately avoids bravura scenes, indulging instead in lengthy (but always interesting) digressions. She thus embroiders a rich tapestry of details, and invests Morgan, Maud, their daughters and their circle of family and friends with emotional complexity and a social and cultural context. Mortality--inevitable and tragic--comes suddenly, with many repercussions. In the end, we understand that chance plays a large part in human events, but choice, and the mysterious workings of fate, are equally powerful in individual lives. Haien's clarity of vision, along with her humane and generous view of character, illuminates this beautiful story of marital love and moral behavior. Author tour. UK, first serial, dramatic rights: Sterling Lord Literistic. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-06-092952-7
Ebook - 448 pages - 978-0-06-197829-6
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