cover image First Light

First Light

Charles Baxter. Viking Books, $17.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-670-81701-6

Having published two books of short stories, Baxter does a masterful job of combining form with function in his first novel. The story begins with a Fourth of July celebration. Dorsey Welch and her husband, Simon, an actor, are spending the holiday with Dorsey's brother, Hugh. The visit is awkward. Years, distance and experience separate brother and sister. Dorsey, always the smart one, is a professor of astrophysics. Her brother, once a promising athlete, is now a car salesman. Simon exacerbates the situation; a sly, insinuating man, he continually mocks his stolid brother-in-law. Chapter by chapter, the story moves back in time, through the siblings' college years, their adolescence and childhood, to Hugh's first glimpse of his baby sister, exploring the things that shaped these people. The characterizations here are superb, as is the writing. There are no fireworks in this story, apart from the Fourth of July pyrotechnics, but this imaginatively conceived, evocative novel will hold the reader's attention from first to last. (September 8)