The Flame Forest

Michael Upchurch, Author Ballantine Books $5.95 (197p) ISBN 978-0-345-36107-3
This unnerving novel deftly portrays a dysfunctional family whose violence and insanity are barely repressed. Sixteen-year-old Jim Ward lives in New Forest, a quiet town two hours from London, where he attends school and helps his mother care for her second husband, who is incapacitated by Alzheimer's disease. He befriends two American siblings, Peter and Roberta Lindquist, whose family is new to the neighborhood and whose self-containment and loneliness match his own. Upchurch subtly contrasts the Wards--Jim and his mother accept and share responsibility with good humor--with the troubled Lindquists: the mother alternates between depression and active hostility; the stepfather hovers on the outskirts of the family, hated or ignored by the teenagers; Peter, a homosexual, becomes involved with drugs; and Roberta remains aloof and withdrawn, battling mysterious demons. Only four-year-old Randy Lindquist seems to be emotionally stable and cheerful in the face of turmoil. Although Upchurch ( Air ) falters with a disappointing, inconclusive finish, this is, nevertheless, a powerful treatment of the eruption of derangement into tragedy. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1989
Release date: 04/01/1989
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