cover image The Promise of Happiness

The Promise of Happiness

Justin Cartwright, . . St. Martin's/ Dunne, $23.95 (308pp) ISBN 978-0-312-34880-9

Cartwright's hilarious, despairing, rapier-sharp third book (Leading the Cheers) delivers a great deal of the absent titular emotion. The five members of the Judd family, reeling from a series of personal and professional blows, have each retreated into a private world. But the impending release of eldest daughter Juliet, an art historian incarcerated in an upstate New York prison for helping to sell stolen Tiffany windows, sets the plot—and the family—in motion. As Juliet—once the apple of her parents' eye but now the family's black sheep—drives to the city with brother Charlie, her father mulls his own professional disgrace, her mother looks to home cooking as a salve, sister Sophie continues to wean herself off drugs (and a married man) and Charlie, the rock of the family, has doubts about his impending marriage to a South American socialite. Each sees their efforts as "the secretion of human folly," but the novel retains a measure of hope for the very thing it despairs of: family. Happiness may be too much to ask for, but its chase, Cartwright suggests, can be at the best of times a family pursuit. (Jan.)