Ann Packer, Author . Knopf $24 (384p) ISBN 978-0-375-41282-0

Packer's engrossing debut novel begins without ostentation. On Memorial Day, Carrie Bell and her fiancé, Mike Mayer, drive out to Clausen's Pier for their annual ritual, a picnic with their friends, a trip they make the way a middle-aged couple might, in grudging silence. Before their resentments can be aired, Mike dives into too shallow water, suffering injuries that change their lives. If Mike survives, he will survive as a quadriplegic, and Carrie faces unexpected responsibilities. Ultimately, Carrie does what is both understandable and unthinkable. She leaves her hometown of Madison, Wis., and shows up on the doorstep of a friend in New York City. There she discovers a different world, different friends and a different self. The hovering question—what will Carrie do? Abandon Mike or return to him?—generates genuine suspense. Packer portrays her characters—both New Yorkers and Madisonites—deftly, and her scenes unfold with uncommon clarity. But if Packer has a keen eye, she has an even keener ear. The dialogue is usually witty; more important, it is always surprising, as if the characters were actually thinking—one of the reasons they become as familiar to the reader as childhood friends. The recipient of several awards, Packer is also the author of Mendocino and Other Stories. Clearly, she has honed her skills writing short fiction. What is unexpected is the assurance she brings to a larger canvas. In quiet but beautiful prose, Packer tells a complex and subtly constructed story of friendship, love and the hold the past has on the present. This is the sort of book one reads dying to know what happens to the characters, but loves for its wisdom: it sees the world with more clarity than you do. (Apr.)

Forecast:Packer has had a Cadillac career—Yale, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the O. Henry Prize, work in the New Yorker and Ploughshares. All of this bodes well for sales, but stellar reviews and word of mouth will do most for this absorbing first novel.

Reviewed on: 03/04/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-553-71498-2
Hardcover - 567 pages - 978-1-4104-0093-2
Hardcover - 568 pages - 978-0-7862-4733-2
Paperback - 432 pages
Hardcover - 384 pages - 978-1-4000-4032-2
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7393-0469-3
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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