cover image Cheerleaders Can't

Cheerleaders Can't

Susan Sullivan Saiter. Dutton Books, $19.95 (313pp) ISBN 978-1-55611-181-5

Saiter's first novel is a grim portrait of a massively dysfunctional family painted by unlucky daughter Crosby Rawson. The double perspective of Crosby's current experiences of family life and recollections of earlier times magnifies the impact of parents who can't decide whether to stay married and of the tribulations of brother Ben, whose mind veers toward chaos at a precociously young age. The father's ambition propels all four Rawsons across America in move after move, upheavals that strain the marriage and force the children to fend for themselves as perennial newcomers. Never in one place long enough to form lasting friendships, Ben and Crosby soon come to view each other as permanent friends. Yet Ben's growing abnormality forces Crosby to cut him off in order to protect her own balance, a decision that provokes guilt when the adult Crosby hears from a New York shelter that Ben, now clearly over the edge, is missing from his usual haunts. Saiter walks a thin line in characterizing the initially endearing Crosby; her survival requires that she learn to take what she needs and push away anyone who threatens what she has attained. Ben is both a charmer and an inexplicably deadly menace, rendering this novel an intense and compelling experience. (Jan.)