cover image This Is My Daughter

This Is My Daughter

Roxana Robinson. Random House (NY), $25 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43901-1

The terrain of upper-middle-class WASP families and the country of divorce are explored with perceptive candor in Robinson's powerful and affecting novel. Emma Goodwin and Peter Chatfield move in the socially elite circles of Manhattan's Upper East Side. When they marry after having divorced their first spouses, each brings a daughter to the new union. Three-year-old Tessa, Emma's child, is adorable and secure, but seven-year-old Amanda, Peter's already difficult daughter, proves sullen, and rebellious. Although she can't admit it to herself, Emma favors and nurtures her own daughter, while Peter, not recognizing Amanda's fear and misery, is annoyed by her continuing defiance. Through insidious undercurrents of resentment and periodic confrontations, Amanda's self-confidence is eventually destroyed. Robinson is particularly adept at conveying the nuances of children's thoughts and behavior, and she sees clearly that they are the real victims of divorce, though readers feel equal sympathy for all players in the drama. Robinson renders the girls' bickering, Amanda's scornful negativity, and the guilt and recrimination that erode the Chatfields' marriage with emotional authority. These scenes occur against the convincingly textured background of private clubs and summer homes, the snobbish pride in blood over money and, sometimes, the cultivation of stingy economy over unseemly display. The last third of the book is hypnotic and achingly real, all too imaginable for parents who will recognize that unconscious acts have their tragic consequences. The author of two collections of short stories, the novel Summer Light and a biography of Georgia O'Keeffe, Robinson writes lucid and graceful prose that shines with compassion and wisdom about human frailty.(June)