Picks and Pans Review: Summer Light

updated 08/08/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/08/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Roxana Robinson

This first novel is set on the coast of Maine during a tumultuous July. Laura, a beautiful, aimless would-be photographer is spending the month with Ward, the man with whom she lives, and her young son, Sammy. Ward, a lawyer, is a big man: "...it seemed to Laura, that his size, his solidity must somehow connect him with the earth, the world, with those statements of facts, of absolutes, that men were so good at." Also in residence: Laura's older sister, the tranquil Sarah, her husband, Richie, and their bickering teenage daughters. The novel's dramatic center is a weekend visit from Laura's not-quite ex-husband, Nathaniel, who during the marriage referred to himself as "husbers" and to Laura as "wifey." His "sprawling, demanding emotion was one reason Laura had left him," and now it intrudes again. Other reasons included his secretary and a stewardess he met on a midnight flight from Atlanta. Ward, long determined to get the skittish Laura to accept his marriage proposal, has not been informed of Nat's visit, an omission that helps turn the weekend into a festival of dinner table psychodrama, accusations, threats, tears and slapped faces. Robinson is wonderful at the sentence that tellingly sums up a situation: "Laura felt that she spent her life listening to men who told her that things would work when she knew they would not: her vacuum cleaner, her carburetor, her marriage" and "she had hardly ever talked to a Boy without washing her hair; without putting on those trickish, unnatural heels, raising her height and expectations...." Robinson is somewhat less successful with plot and character. There is something a bit pat about the head-on collision between boyfriend and soon-to-be ex-husband. And there is something a bit too contrived about the sudden decisiveness of Laura, who up until this point has been irritatingly procrastinating, unanchored and passive (during her marriage she accepted Nat's proudly admitted philandering as a tic akin to leaving the cap off the toothpaste tube). When she all at once sees "the truth" and pulls her untidy life together, it's an unconvincing epiphany that keeps this beautifully written novel from being fully satisfying. (Viking, $16.95)

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