cover image SWEETWATER


Roxana Robinson, . . Random, $24.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50916-2

A starred or boxed review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of unusual commercial interest that hasn't received a starred or boxed review.

SWEETWATERRoxana Robinson. Random, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 0-375-50916-X

In four previous works of fiction, Robinson established herself as an astute and sensitive chronicler of domestic tensions, particularly among affluent families in wealthy enclaves of Manhattan and exclusive summer abodes. Here she broadens her canvas to introduce larger social issues tied (sometimes a bit too blatantly) to the ways her characters behave. A widow for two years, 47-year-old Isabel Green marries her ardent suitor, Paul Simmons, hoping that her affection for him will turn into love. During a visit to Sweetwater Lodge, the Simmons family's lakeside compound in the Adirondacks, she meets Paul's cold, disapproving parents, Douglas and Charlotte ("handsome, implacable... like a pair of raptors"), and his bachelor brother, Whit, with whom Paul maintains a vicious sibling rivalry. Fundamental issues soon convince Isabel that her marriage is a dreadful mistake. A committed environmentalist, she becomes embroiled in an argument with Douglas, who scorns environmental programs as impediments to progress. To complicate matters, Isabel and Whit acknowledge the passion that attracts them to each other. Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal the events of Isabel's first marriage and the way her husband died, leaving her guilt-stricken. At this point, nature intervenes in the form of a forest fire that threatens the lodge and its inhabitants, and motivates a wrenching, potentially lethal family drama. Although Sweetwater Lodge succumbs to the winds of change, Isabel is granted a life-affirming insight. Readers may feel that Robinson wraps things up too neatly, but the novel succeeds as a moving study of a woman's emergence from a suffocating life. Agent, Janklow & Nesbit. Author tour. (May 20)

Forecast:Robinson's two previous novels have been well reviewed, and her publisher's conviction that this one will be her commercial breakthrough could be fulfilled through a committed marketing campaign.