cover image After Shocks/Near Escapes

After Shocks/Near Escapes

Stephen Dobyns. Viking Books, $19.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-670-83914-8

With precision and force, poet and novelist Dobyns ( Body Traffic ; A Boat Off the Coast ) depicts the effects on one family of the earthquakes in Chile in 1960. Lucy Recabarren, a divorced, 38-year-old piano teacher living with her daughter in Santiago, looks back on the experience, whose emotional aftershocks continue to resonate in her life. Lucy is eight years old when the cataclysm occurs and her world falls apart. Her father dies, and she, her mother and two brothers, along with many cousins, aunts and uncles, flee to her grandmother's nearby farm. As tremors continue for weeks, family members find different ways of coping with unsettledness. One spinster aunt wears a wedding dress day and night; an uncle eats incessantly; another aunt--closely watched by the children--begins to flirt with her husband's brother, precipitating shifts within the family more seismic than those wrought by the quake. Infused with grief, Lucy's perceptions center around her grandmother's belief--and hope--that the entire family will soon enter heaven together. With generous imagination and carefully observed details, Dobyns sustains the delicate, sorrowful tone of Lucy's attempts to understand what was really lost in the chaos 30 years before. (June)