cover image Compass Rose

Compass Rose

John Casey, Knopf, $27.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-375-41025-3

Casey tepidly returns to characters orbiting Rhode Island fisherman Dick Pierce, the lynchpin of his 1989 National Book Award–winning novel, Spartina, in this uneven outing. Game warden Elsie Buttrick has just given birth to Dick's illegitimate daughter, Rose, and over the next 16 years the fiercely independent Elsie grapples with motherhood, aging, and love, and throws herself into a crusade to stop her land-grabbing brother-in-law from expanding his seaside resort. Meanwhile, Dick's wife, May, reconciles a public humiliation with an intense love for Rose. As Elsie's lust flares, May sinks deeper into her devotion to her children and Rose. Though the lyrical narrative has strong roots in the women's interiors, it's the connectedness of their "tiny ecosystem" that the book best evokes. Yet plodding moments—clearing a field of stones, for example—slow the pace, and the omission of many potentially dramatic scenes—a father admitting his infidelities to his sons, a woman capitulating to a landowner's demands—limit the story's emotional range. While fans of Casey's previous books will enjoy this encore, many readers will be left lukewarm by the lack of narrative consequence. (Oct.)