Mary McGarry Morris. Viking Books, $24.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-670-89156-6
Small towns are never as ordinary as they seem; everyone has secrets. In her well-received novels (A Dangerous Woman, etc.), Morris has honed this territory with empathy for those on the fringes of community life. Here she raises the stakes: it's the best families in town that have the most to lose, and thus to hide. Fiona Range is the black sheep of the Hollis clan, residents of Dearborn, Mass. When her unwed mother abandoned her as a baby, Fiona was raised by her aunt and uncle. Headstrong and reckless, she has always felt like an outsider. At 30, she has never attended college, held a good job or had a relationship with a good man. She's now waiting tables, drinking, satisfying her need for intimacy by sleeping around, and despairing about her future. Then her cousin Elizabeth returns from New York with a physician fianc , an event that devastates Elizabeth's hometown boyfriend. Fiona becomes sexually involved with both men, a fact not lost on anyone. Meanwhile, she's determined to achieve a relationship with badly scarred Vietnam vet Patrick Grady, who everyone says is her father, though he vehemently denies paternity. The reader catches on far earlier than Fiona that her uncle's warnings about Patrick's violence hide a secret of his own, and that his vaunted charity to Patrick and others is hush money. The plot seems to go in circles as Fiona ignores common sense and repeatedly behaves rashly, afterward suffering guilt and self-disgust. In fact, Fiona's headlong self-destruction distance her from the reader's sympathy. Yet there is sustained tension in the narrative, and the denouement packs a thriller's excitement. Agent, Jean Naggar. BOMC selection. (May) FYI: Morris's Songs in Ordinary Time was an Oprah Book Club selection.
Reviewed on: 05/01/2000