MUTUAL LIFE & CASUALTY
Elizabeth Poliner, . . Permanent, $26 (223pp) ISBN 978-1-57962-112-4
Home is a battleground where lives are lived on autopilot in Poliner's auspicious debut collection of interwoven stories set primarily in 1970s suburban Connecticut. Sisters Hannah and Carolyn Kahn quietly inhabit a fragile home and suffer their parents' loveless marriage, an unhappy union that poisons their adolescence and haunts them as adults. Their beautiful mother, Naomi, is happiest when she is "absorbed" in volunteer work or an affair, seeking any distraction from her critical, demanding husband, Daniel, an overworked insurance executive who doles out affection via his checkbook. Hannah and Carolyn cling to their mother, reveling in their role as recipients of her confessions—she is desperate for divorce, but too frightened to leave: "If I left... divorced—what would I do?" As adults, the sisters find themselves paralyzed by their family history. Instead of pursuing a promising musical career, Hannah becomes a piano teacher trapped in a safe marriage, afraid to bear children. Carolyn, a successful consultant, escapes to Miami to divorce herself from her family and the "townyness" of Connecticut, but ultimately returns, realizing that she is a "bud waiting to bloom." Fully realized, sympathetic characters, frank exploration of women's self-assigned roles and tight writing make this a forthright, satisfying first effort.
Reviewed on: 01/10/2005