Surviving the Wreck

Susan Osborn, Author Henry Holt & Company $19.45 (226p) ISBN 978-0-8050-1586-7
This touching and troubling, though problematic first novel deals with the painful theme of childhood sexual abuse and the way it can deform all family relationships. From the vantage point of adulthood, Megan reflects on her seemingly idyllic childhood in the 1950s and '60s, when she lived in the New Jersey suburbs with her advertising executive father, housewife mother and brilliant older brother, Kyle. But the family evolves into a distorted unit in which each member plays out a sharply skewed role. Kyle and her repressed mother are a tightly connected pair, and victimized Megan is her alcoholic father's caretaker. ``I'm supposed to staunch his despair, lick his wounds . . . and altogether resuscitate his ailing soul through my constant faith and attention.'' His sexual abuse of her haunts her still: ``I am an adult now . . . trying to sort things out, to arrange them so they make some kind of sense.'' A father's systematic manipulation of his dependent daughter is skillfully rendered and intensely disturbing, and Osborn's detailed interpretation of her characters brings us into their claustrophobic world. Megan tells her story in a series of fragmented memories, dreams and conversations, but since the narrative style so closely traces embittered Megan's thought process, the reader is too close to her to see her clearly; and, like Megan's brother (who asks, ``What do you expect me to do after you tell about all this?''), is left somewhat unsatisfied at the end of Osborn's story. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1992
Release date: 01/01/1992
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