cover image Brass Ring

Brass Ring

Diane Chamberlain. HarperCollins Publishers, $21 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017612-9

Chamberlain's latest novel (after Private Relations) is an empathic but honey-coated tale of one woman's journey into her long-buried past, and of the lingering impact of her disturbing discoveries. Therapists Claire Harte-Mathias and her husband, Jon, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic, seem to have a perfect marriage-and a perfect partnership, counseling trauma victims and their families. But one night, the couple witness a suicide, which eventually prompts Claire to question her willfully optimistic view of life. She is plagued by murky, incomplete but menacing images and memories from her past, and she is forced to face the issue of her long-lost sister: Where is she? Who is she, now? The narrative shuttles back and forth from Claire's increasingly distressed mental state to that of physician Vanessa Gray, who counsels victims of childhood sexual abuse in Seattle; she, too, has unfinished business regarding childhood memories. Throughout, Chamberlain presents a grab bag of serious issues-including child abuse, rape, wife-abuse and anorexia-but her method makes them unthreatening: here, people rarely sit down to a session of painful memory retrieval without a cup of steaming coffee or some fragrant onion soup. Though there's a comforting quality to Chamberlain's set pieces and she's a sufficiently deft plotter to juggle Claire and Vanessa's stories while maintaining suspense, most readers will have trouble crediting the ease with which her characters make their ways through thickets of painful memory to be returned to their former lives, enriched and strengthened. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternate. (Oct.)