cover image That Night

That Night

Alice McDermott. Farrar Straus Giroux, $14.95 (183pp) ISBN 978-0-374-27361-3

Further developing the inventive narrative technique she used in A Bigamist's Daughter, McDermott masterfully blurs the lines between reality and illusion, offering a work on several levels. Her narrator reflects on an incident that shattered the serenity and naivete of her suburban world of the early 1960s, when she was 10 years old, and claims that event as a point of departure for her fertile imaginative powers. An opening scene of violence played out under a ""bright navy sky'' on a soft midsummer night ``when Venus was bright,'' captures the tone and focus of the novel, which recalls the doomed love affair of teenagers Sheryl and Rick. McDermott makes the relationship between her two ordinary, unattractive protagonists poignant and believable. A mesmerizing storyteller, she evokes the aching vulnerability of adolescent love, in this case between two lost, despairing not-quite-adults. The forced parting of the two teenagers also marks a rite of passage for the other families in the middle-class Long Island neighborhood, as parents comprehend that even their fierce love for their children will not be enough protection against life's inevitable blows. In spare prose of remarkable acuity, McDermott captures a time and place and a social era. Her narrative voice, romantically elegiac and yet premonitory of doom, is strong and compelling. (April)