THE HAZARDS OF GOOD BREEDING

Jessica Shattuck, Author . Norton $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-05132-2

Shattuck's debut novel is a social comedy, with flashes of darker import, about an upper-crust Boston suburban family forced to come to terms with the pressures of contemporary life and the ways in which they succeed, or more frequently fail. Patriarch Jack Dunlap is a rigid, seemingly puritanical businessman whose stern eccentricities have driven his wife, Faith, out of the house and into a state of nervous exhaustion. Daughter Caroline, made of sterner stuff, is trying to get used to the family weirdness again after graduating from college and returning home to decide what to do with her life—which will probably not include continuing to see an old beau, pot-smoking Rock. Her little brother, Eliot, is attempting to come to terms with the loss of his beloved Colombian babysitter, Rosita, fired under mysterious circumstances. It is Rosita, a symbol of strength and resilience amid the flaky denizens of her adopted country, who becomes the center around which the anxieties and obsessions of the principals revolve, and she is perhaps too easy a symbol. Shattuck is an observant and graceful writer, and contrives some elegant and touching scenes, particularly as Faith begins to recover a sense of her womanhood with a charming French visitor. But the book, for all its virtues, feels excessively schematic, and various plot strands—like Caroline's involvement with a documentary filmmaker—are dropped too summarily. Blurbs compare it to the work of Richard Yates and John Cheever, but it has neither the somber anguish of the former or the comic, off-center élan of the latter. (Feb.)

Forecast:The well-observed New England setting and characters could help this title to do well locally—Shattuck will tour the Northeast—but it's rather quiet to make much of a mark on the national scene.

Reviewed on: 12/02/2002
Release date: 02/01/2003
Paperback - 292 pages - 978-0-393-32483-9
Open Ebook - 978-0-393-34770-8
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