Marnie Mueller, Author . Curbstone $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-880684-82-5

A woman returns to Puerto Rico to help her terminally ill mother through her final days in Mueller's third novel, a gritty yet graceful book that unflinchingly looks at the reality of losing a parent. The story opens with Sarah Ellis leaving her job and husband in New York to join her mother, Reba, as abdominal cancer begins its final march through Reba's battered body. But Sarah is hardly an angel of mercy—in a series of flashbacks, Mueller reveals both Reba's deep-seated cruelty toward her daughter and Sarah's hatred for her mother, a revulsion offset to some extent by Sarah's respect for the devotion to social activism that Reba shared with her late husband, Scott. Some of the passages describing the family history are a bit mawkish and pedestrian, but the second half of this book turns absolutely riveting as Mueller delves into Sarah's fear, love and loathing while Reba stubbornly tries to hang onto her dignity as she awaits a final visit from her son-in-law, Roberto, a psychologist who is all too aware of the manipulation dominating the mother-daughter relationship. The account of the final days is especially gut-wrenching, as Sarah is finally forced to call in a nurse and a family friend to help her through her mother's brutal last hours. As a novel, this is a lovely but painful account of a difficult journey two women must take together to bring their problematic relationship to a close. On a deeper level, Mueller has crafted an exceptional book about the spirituality of death and dying that gets inside the reality of losing a parent with an intimacy and depth that no self-help treatise can hope to match. Agent, Liza Dawson.(Mar.)

Forecast:Readers searching for texts on death and dying will find this novel especially compelling, but general readers will also appreciate Mueller's craftsmanship and insight. A blurb from Wally Lamb should help draw browsers. Five-city author tour.

Reviewed on: 01/07/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
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