Alexandra Styron, . . Little, Brown, $23.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-316-89080-9

As Styron's mournful but potent debut novel opens, Adelaide Abraham has just arrived on the fictional Caribbean island of St. Clair. Addy, as she's called, is attending the funeral of her childhood nanny, Lou—Louise Alfred—and she's staying not in a hotel, but with Lou's family. For, as becomes clear, Lou was Addy's family back when Addy was a disturbed and unruly child and her parents' marriage was breaking up. In the course of the three days Addy spends on St. Clair, she learns something about the resentful family Lou left behind. Bitterest is Derek, Lou's younger son, who felt his mother abandoned him when she left to take a job caring for a wealthy white girl. Most disturbed is Lou's father, who thinks Addy is a white property owner who used to accuse him of stealing. Interleaved with Addy's encounters on St. Clair are her memories of the years Lou cared for her. These scenes are vivid and incisive, making it painfully clear that Addy's parents—artists and intellectuals—were too self-involved to manage Addy. In contrast to the direct narration of these sections, the story of Lou's family is told thirdhand, through Addy's reports of her conversations with Lou's sister and sons. While these are carefully rendered, learning Lou's life this way is, as Addy says, like "racing through time on a bullet train, monumental events melting down to smears of color." Styron (daughter of writers William and Rose Styron) beautifully juxtaposes Addy's past and the present on St. Claire, dealing deftly with a series of ironies. Although some readers may find Addy slow to catch on, Styron's gift is to make the reader feel real grief for her characters and real relief for Addy when she begins to make a peace with herself and her parents. (June 4)