cover image A World Away

A World Away

Stewart O'Nan / Author Henry Holt & Company $23 (352p) ISBN 97

Granta-listed O'Nan (Snow Angels) fulfills his promise with this affecting and nuanced examination of family alliances tested by infidelity, illness and the pervasive impact of WWII. James Langer, repentant over an affair with one of his high-school students, tries to reconcile himself with his wife, Anne, who responds with silence, fury and a lover of her own. Some rapprochement seems less possible yet all the more necessary as the strain on the marriage increases. As the novel opens, the couple and their tepidly unhappy adolescent son, Jay, have come to the Hamptons to care for James's father, felled by a stroke. Yet the wound that runs deepest is the uncertain fate of their older son, Rennie, a former conscientious objector who became a medic and is now missing in action in the Pacific. The potential for melodrama increases as Rennie's wife, Dorothy, joins the family in the Hamptons after giving birth to their child. Yet O'Nan avoids that pitfall by focusing on the continually shifting tensions and alliances that animate the family: Anne's ambivalence about forgiving her husband; James's anxieties about the damaged family around him; and young Jay's growing confidence as he cares for his ailing grandfather. The narrative's subtle balance falters a bit with Rennie's homecoming; frustratingly, O'Nan holds the returned soldier somewhat aloof from the reader, rigorously keeping the focus on James and Ann. Still, this is a compassionate, acutely observant and deftly understated novel that evokes the longings that tug at one's heart as it unfurls in elegant prose. 30,000 first printing; author tour. (June)