cover image Other People's Children

Other People's Children

Joanna Trollope. Viking Books, $23.95 (294pp) ISBN 978-0-670-88513-8

A skilled artisan of nuance and insight reveals a vigorous new edge as she explores the painful and contentious arena of stepfamilies. Here Trollope focuses on three women and two men who wrestle with new family configurations, along with their six children, ranging from eight to 28. When Josie marries Matthew, she already has experience as both a mother and stepmother, and she feels prepared for the impending battles with Matthew's difficult and bitter ex-wife, Nadine. But her patient determination crumbles as Matthew's three children turn sullen, mutinous and downright nasty to Josie and her eight-year-old son, Rufus. ""Has it ever struck you that stepchildren can be quite as cruel as stepmothers are supposed to be?"" Josie asks her sister-in-law, who later observes, ""Everyone seems to expect so much of women it nearly drove you mad."" Things seem at first to be a lot easier for Josie's ex-husband, Tom, an architect who has two other children besides Rufus (Tom's first wife died suddenly when his children were small). In no time Tom has a fianc e, the calm and reasonable Elizabeth, whom Rufus (who visits Tom regularly) seems to like rather well. It is Tom's 25-year-old daughter, Dale, who can't bear to see her father passionately in love. The narrative moves back and forth between Josie and Elizabeth as the latter finds her new life in sudden turmoil; the spare, dramatic revelation of Dale's psychological hold on Tom injects Hitchcockian suspense. Though Trollope's wry intelligence supports the plot, her command of raw emotional content--her portraits of the children, for example--is equally impressive. The urgency of her vision adds clout to this affecting drama. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selections; Penguin audio; author tour. (Apr.) FYI: Berkley will publish The Best of Friends in March. Trollope will be Writer in Residence at Victoria magazine during 1999.