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Picks and Pans Review: Monkeys

updated 06/02/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/02/1986 01:00AM

by Susan Minot

Worlds of emotional ache and love—both repressed in the most painful ways—are compacted in this affecting fiction about a Massachusetts family with seven children. The nine chapters (many originally published as short stories) cover eight years, during most of which the children try to cope with their alcoholic, grimly uncommunicative father and circumspect, too cheerful mother, who affectionately calls her brood "monkeys." Minot, 29, is an exacting, economical writer; the deceptive gentleness of her language masks its virulent bite. At one point, while the family is gathered around the breakfast table, the father stops to pantomime a golfer hitting a putt: "There was a gentle craning of necks as the invisible ball rolled over the straw carpet. When Dad unfroze, it meant the ball had stopped so they could stop paying attention. He frowned, unhappy with the stroke. But Dad never looked satisfied with anything he did." Minot also creates, in the most understated way, a backdrop of surpassing warmth among the siblings that endures everything from a querulous Thanksgiving dinner to a tragic accident. She invokes characters whose lives and problems seem familiar—all too familiar, in some cases—addressing the deeper philosophical issues only obliquely, the way most of us do. This first novel is a startling, penetrating experience. (Dutton, $15.95)

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