Steps and Exes: A Novel of Family

Laura Kalpakian, Author Avon Books $23 (321p) ISBN 978-0-380-97767-3
The legacy of the free-living 60s extends into the 90s in Kalpakians beguiling novel, in which changing social mores, sexual passion, the longing for family and the need for independence motivate a cast of engaging women. After Celia Westervelt lost her rich husband when he was swept off their yacht in a fog of marijuana, she vowed never to marry again. Instead she pours her imagination and energy into a charming bed and breakfast called Henrys House, located on Useless Point, Isadora Island, in Puget Sound. Enjoying what she calls the Unfettered Life, Celia has subsequent affairs with a variety of men, which produce two daughters and a stepdaughter. Now one of the girls has defied Celias injunction by deciding to tie the knot, and an engagement party at Henrys House becomes the gathering point for the extended clan, including an incongruous mixture of steps and exes. Kalpakian (Grace Land) evokes the pervasive dampness, insularity and placid beauty of island existence with pungent and sensuous detail, and she outdoes Martha Stewart in her descriptions of Henrys House, whose studied opulence provides the essence of faux-family heritage in every stuffed pillow, antique bibelot, lace dresser scarf and handmade quilt. Just when the ladies magazine atmosphere threatens to become cloying, Kalpakian darkens the canvas; a charge of child molestation blows the family apart, and other threats, such as breast cancer and divorce, are revealed. Kalpakian cleverly uses iconoclastic Celia to dramatize the irony of an independent womans need for family, but she makes Celia and the other female characters so vibrant that the menwith one exceptionare feckless in contrast, a whiney, dependent, irresponsible and demanding lot. She also goes a bit overboard in satirizing the smug self-righteousness of recovery movements that promise to heal and empower and instead terrorize innocent people. But her involving story succeeds on the strengths of its snappy dialogue and tart observations, and of its questions about what constitutes a family, and what, indeed, constitutes romance in this age of efficiency and feminism. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1999
Release date: 06/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-380-80659-1
Open Ebook - 978-0-06-187344-7
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