cover image The Body is Water

The Body is Water

Julie Schumacher. Soho Press, $21 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-56947-042-8

A pregnant, unmarried schoolteacher returns to her childhood home in a New Jersey seaside resort town in this expertly wrought, acutely observed first novel. Jane Haus narrates the last six months of her pregnancy, during which she revives relationships with her crotchety father and her older sister and struggles to understand the lasting emotional damage wrought upon them by her unhappy mother's illness and death. Fluid writing and finely shaped characters--from each family member to minor players, such as Jane's obstetrician, her high-school golf teacher and one of her students--form the backbone of this affecting domestic drama. As the Haus family enigma, Jane's mother is the book's weakest character, one whose wispy, distant presence deprives the several flashbacks of emotional suspense. In contrast, the present-day narrative, which dominates, is propelled by the surviving family's gripping, poignant attempts to overcome their unhappy history and support Jane. A marvelously executed childbirth scene proves a strong metaphor for the painful emotional changes that Jane, her sister and her father experience. One finishes the story of this eccentric family wishing it were just beginning. (Sept.)