cover image In My Mother's House

In My Mother's House

Elizabeth Winthrop. Doubleday Books, $19.95 (523pp) ISBN 978-0-385-17121-2

In her large, resounding first novel spanning three generations, former journalist Winthrop powerfully illuminates one of the darker corners of the human psyche. Part one chronicles young Lydia Franklin's fearful confusion when a treasured uncle begins to exploit her sexually. He stops only after a fire sweeps through the family brownstone, changing the course of Lydia's life irrevocably as she sinks into the first of several breakdowns. At the urging of a Freudian analyst, she records her painful experiences in journals that are then hidden away. Resettled on a Connecticut farm after her marriage, Lydia sublimates her fears and nervous energy by embracing a series of political causes and a struggle for family perfection. Daughter Charlotte is driven away by her mother's overwhelming need for control. But when Charlotte's similar single-mindedness alienates her own daughter Molly, Lydia's deep-seated fears about sexual abuse surface again. Only after reading the dusty journals does Molly free herself from the crushing, complex weight that love, guilt and family secrets have exerted through the generations. The three separate parts of this novel do not easily coexist, and the latter two are simply outweighed by the dark power of Lydia's early life. Despite these flaws, Winthrop's psychological threadwork is skillful and precise, and her crystalline images and genuine warmth for her characters make this an utterly absorbing book. (June)