cover image Snow Angels

Snow Angels

Stewart O'Nan. Doubleday Books, $20 (305pp) ISBN 978-0-385-47574-7

The lives of two small-town Pennsylvania families connected by tragedy are related in this assured and affecting first novel by the author of the short-story collection, In the Walled City. Narrator Arthur Parkinson has been haunted by the murder of his former baby sitter, Annie Marchand, which occured when he was in high school. As he relates the circumstances leading to Annie's death-the culmination of a string of rash and heedless acts that included leaving her husband, engaging in an affair with her best friend's boyfriend and proving negligent in the care of her young daughter-Artie also chronicles his own parents' acrimonious separation, which occurred during those same dreary months of 1974. Annie's decision not to reconcile with her wimpish husband, Glenn, who loves her devotedly and doggedly, is paralleled by Artie's mother's decision to divorce his father, the beginning of the family's downward economic slide. Both sets of adults behave like adolescents, and the effects on their children are grave and irrevocable. O'Nan is a skilled writer who views the lives of his working-class characters with unsentimental compassion; he understands how they are entrapped by social background and stark economics as well as their own personal inadequacies-in Annie's case, her impetuous reactions and fierce temper. The novel's elegiac tone is perfectly controlled, and angst and the lingo of male adolescence are rendered with wry fidelity. But O'Nan's triumph is Annie; in spite of her faults, readers will empathize as she makes the mistakes that will bring her heartbreaking life to an end. Author tour. (Nov.)