William Norris, Author . Riverhead $23.95 (261p) ISBN 978-1-57322-183-2

In this well-crafted but ultimately unsurprising debut novel, Norris attempts to put a spin on the conventional family drama by reversing its trajectory. In short vignettes, alternating rapidly like riffled pages in a photograph album, the Mahoney family is seen through a variety of lenses. On Christmas Eve in 1997, the four adult Mahoney siblings join their parents at their home on the New Jersey shore. Flashbacks beginning in 1992 and working back to 1972 illuminate their past lives and reveal the sources of their current, mild estrangement. Through shifting perspectives, an implicit contrast is established between the hopeful early years and the uncertainties of the present. Now the parents are weary and bitter, bemoaning the ravages of time and change. Kate, the eldest of the siblings, has battled mental illness most of her life, finally choosing to medicate her condition at the expense of her blistering artistic vision and once-dynamic personality. Patty, a doctor living in Manhattan, has always been the perfect child, but for years her alcoholism seethed underneath, intensifying as the pressure mounted to present a composed façade. Though he is the Mahoney's only boy, Sean is not the son his father wanted: bored by sports, he lives in London as a chef, having increased the distance between himself and his family. Nora, the youngest, always struggled with being different, but having finally fallen in love and openly revealed her homosexuality, she tests the strength of the familial bonds. Norris renders anecdotes of family conflict and nurturing—some trivial, others tragic—with energy and compassion, and if, in the end, the narrative remains too fractured to cohere, the collective portrait of a changing family unit has complexity and validity. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 07/30/2001
Release date: 08/01/2001
Paperback - 305 pages - 978-1-57322-941-8
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