cover image Commitment


Mona Simpson. Knopf, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-0-593-31927-7

Simpson (Casebook) follows the paths of three siblings after their mother’s mental health breakdown in her well-drawn latest. After Walter Aziz, the oldest, leaves Los Angeles to attend UC Berkeley, Diane, a single mother, overwhelmed by the depression that has stalked her for most of her life, stops going to work and eventually signs herself into a psychiatric hospital, leaving behind Walter’s sister, Lina, a high school senior, and younger brother, Donnie. As their mother’s best friend steps up to take care of the children, they grapple with how to proceed. Lina works in an ice-cream shop and wants to head east for college; Walter, having discovered a passion for architecture, questions whether he can pursue a field in which aesthetics are valued above utility; and Donnie drifts aimlessly along Southern California’s beaches. Their mother’s breakdown distances them emotionally from their peers. Walter, invited to attend a sorority party on campus, gives his regrets, overwhelmed by a sense of obligation to his family: “I have a smaller world now.” Lina, meanwhile, envies the “breeziness” exuding from the homes of her more stable friends. Simpson foregoes surprises or dramatic turns, drawing readers instead with deep and tender considerations of her characters, as they’re forced to learn hard truths while still in the prime of their youths. Fans of family chronicles will not be disappointed. (Mar.)