cover image IN CLARA'S HANDS


Joseph Olshan, . . Bloomsbury, $26 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-7475-5704-3

Olshan brings back the warm and waggish Jamaican housekeeper of his successful 1985 debut, Clara's Heart, but fans of that novel (or of Whoopi Goldberg's movie version) may be disappointed by how little page time she receives here. The novel centers on Will Kaplan (the hero of Olshan's Nightswimmer), who was raised by housekeeper Clara in a New York City suburb in the 1970s and is now a cartographer living in Burlington, Vt. He has befriended neighbor Marie Claire Arcenaux, the mother of his former lover Peter. The novel opens with Will learning that a jet has just crashed off of Long Island. Marie was scheduled for that flight, and Will assumes that she is dead. He soon learns that she was not on the plane, but the fact still remains that no one has seen or heard from her in days. Trying to unravel the mystery, Will calls Peter, who's in California supporting his sister, Grace as she undergoes treatment for Hodgkins disease. Will also asks Clara to come up to Burlington to help him find Marie. The woman's disappearance recalls for Will the trauma of his older brother's fatal skiing accident 20 years earlier, and also makes him realize how much he regrets breaking up with Peter. Olshan moves back and forth between Will, Peter, Clara and Marie's point of view. He probes their relationships sensitively, though the abundance of deaths, heartache and dramatic revelations sometimes has a made-for-TV feel. The witty, unpredictable Clara lights up the page; her ebullience is a welcome contrast to her fellow characters, who are uniformly paralyzed by the past. (Mar.)