Harriet Scott Chessman, Author . Seven Stories $21.95 (144p) ISBN 978-1-58322-519-6

Chessman's second novel is a lyrical but rather glum and shapeless examination of the secrets and traumas of two suburban families. Hallie, an insecure painter living with her architect husband in Brooklyn, returns to her parents' home for a visit. She is concerned about her mother, Virginia, who has been "low" for as long as she can remember, but who now refuses to leave her bed. Her father, Charles, a doctor, tries to make the best of things, despite the haze of inertia and casual cruelty that hangs over the marriage. (Virginia at one point wonders, "Why should I open my eyes, when I know precisely what he will look like?") Hallie's childhood friend Rose, "would-be writer, plump woman, plumped down in the middle of the slow state of Ohio," is the matriarch of a chaotic but loving household. Redheaded and pregnant with her third child, she is the antithesis of wan Hallie, who, after five miscarriages, has given up on motherhood. Nevertheless, the two reconnect and share memories—some idyllic, some sinister—of their childhood together and of their respective families. When Virginia takes an overdose of sleeping pills, Hallie inadvertently discovers the source of her mother's depression. Chessman (Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper) is adept at setting a mood, but she too often allows her lyricism to lapse into preciousness, and for every beautiful image, there is a dull, superfluous one waiting to nullify it. By novel's end, plot and characters alike are all but lost in a stew of flashbacks and dreams. (Oct. 7)

Forecast:Chessman's first novel (a #1 Book Sense pick) was a favorite of independent booksellers, so sales of her second should be respectable, even if the final verdict is less favorable.

Reviewed on: 09/30/2002
Release date: 07/01/2003
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