cover image Black and Blue

Black and Blue

Anna Quindlen. Random House Inc, $23 (293pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50051-0

After two fine earlier efforts, Object Lessons and One True Thing, Quindlen has written her best novel yet in this unerringly constructed and paced, emotionally accurate tale of domestic abuse. Her protagonist is Frannie Benedetto, a 37-year-old Brooklyn housewife, mother and nurse who finally finds the courage to escape from her violent husband Bobby, a New York City cop. Under an assumed identity in a tacky central Florida town, Frannie and her 10-year-old son, Robert, attempt to build a new life, but there is a price to pay, and when it comes, it carries the heartstopping logic of inevitability and the irony of fate. Quindlen establishes suspense from the first sentence and never falters. She cogently explores the complex emotional atmosphere of abuse: why some women cling to the memory of their original love and wait too long to break free. She makes palpable Frannie's fear, pain, self-contempt and, later, guilt over depriving Robert of the father he adores. As Frannie and Robert make tentative steps in their new community, Quindlen conveys their sense of dislocation and anxiety compounded by their sense of loss. Weaving the domestic fabric that is her forte, she flawlessly reproduces the mundane dialogue between mother and son, between Frannie and the friends she makes and the people she serves in her new job as a home health-care aide. Among the triumphs of Quindlen's superb ear for voices is the character of an elderly Jewish woman whose moribund husband is Frannie's patient. Above all, Quindlen is wise and humane. Her understanding of the complex anatomy of marital relationships, of the often painful bond of maternal love and of the capacity to survive tragedy and carry on invest this moving novel with the clarion ring of truth. Literary Guild selection; Random House audio; author tour. (Feb.)