cover image A Country of Strangers

A Country of Strangers

Susan Shreve. Simon & Schuster, $17.45 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-64409-3

When he accepts a government post in Washington during WW II, Charley Fletcher moves his Danish wife, Lara, her teenage daughter, Kate, and their baby son to a farm tucked into the Virginia countryside. There, he plans to begin anew, living in harmony with the Bellowses, a family descended from the slaves who once worked the farm. Charley's idealistic fancy stems not from principle, but from a deep need to form a union ``in a country of strangers, of loneliness and isolation and a longing to walk in the company of friends.'' Moses Bellows takes a jaundiced view of this naive white man who rushes like an eager puppy to overstep racial boundaries. In the end, though, the shot that breaks the tenuous links between the families could have come from any one of them. The pleasing lyricism of Shreve's ( Queen of Hearts ) prose has a dreamy, unfocused quality that keeps these characters at arm's length. Although they revolve around one another like tiny planets on a hidden axis, each remains a stranger at heart, a fact that may discourage readers who care to come closer. (Jan.)