Kristen den Hartog, . . MacAdam/Cage, $24 (346pp) ISBN 978-1-931561-25-9

A troubled Canadian family is the focus of this sensitive debut novel about an alcoholic man who wreaks havoc on the lives of his wife and twin daughters. Jane Ingram is the narrator who tells the story as a series of flashbacks, alternating accounts of her childhood experiences with a subplot in which she tries to cope with her traumatic upbringing through a series of children's stories she develops with her lover, Simon, an illustrator. Jane; her twin sister, Eugenie; and their imaginative and somewhat fey mother, Lucy, teeter on the edge of chaos precipitated by the violent outbursts and emotional cruelty of their father, and husband, David. The children are more or less left to themselves as their parents rage against one another. Lucy tries to explain away David's disturbed state of mind as simply a clash of personalities ("what you adore about someone will one day be the thing you try to change"). The couple splits, and their custody battles precipitate a fatal accident which lies at the heart of Jane's present-day disturbance. Interspersed through the novel are the children's stories that Jane concocts to explain her past to Simon (however obliquely); gradually, the tales build a picture of an emotionally fractured personality. Though the subject matter has been addressed many times over, Hartog handles it skillfully. Jane's memories accurately reflect the thoughts and fears of a confused and frightened child, and the plangent tone of sadness is sustained with grace. (Feb.)