cover image With Your Crooked Heart

With Your Crooked Heart

Helen Dunmore / Author Atlantic Monthly Press $24 (288p) ISBN

In sharp, elegant prose, Dunmore's latest novel explores ""the roots that the past puts down in the present,"" and finds that it is impossible to escape the consequences of reckless actions. Real estate mogul Paul turns dilapidated buildings into luxury apartments, shedding the squalor of his childhood for the trappings of privileged London life, but he cannot save his brother, ne'er-do-well Johnnie, from the younger man's self-destructive tendencies. British writer Dunmore (Talking to the Dead; Your Blue-Eyed Boy) here plumbs familiar depths, exploring the anxieties of threatened children, the twisted family ties and the adulterous secrets that give her plots an almost gothic richness. Despite the weight of her material, Dunmore's eye for contemporary detail and her light, sensuous prose save her work from melodrama. Paul's wife, Louise, conceives Anna after a fleeting encounter with Johnnie. Ten years later, the secret infidelity continues to weigh on her; she grows fat and alcoholic, and Paul abandons her for icy Sonia. When he marries Sonia and moves with Anna to their new house in Yorkshire, Louise slips more deeply into drink and confides in Johnnie, himself mixed up in drugs and crime. Johnnie goes on the lam to flee vicious creditors, and Louise follows. Dunmore documents their ill-fated journey while tracking, in parallel, pensive Anna's coming-of-age. Adding authenticity, she supplies convincing details about the petty criminals who operate on the fringes of London's underworld, but the final focus is on Anna and the possibility of redemption that she represents. Dunmore's dreamy, lucid language makes this haunting novel as lovely as it is wrenching. (Feb.) FYI: Dunmore has written children's novels, short stories and poems; she won the first 1996 Orange Prize, for A Spell of Winter.