He's dead." It's the pained thought that grips Eve Mozell every time the phone rings. For 30 years, Eve's father, Lou, a once-successful sitcom writer, has tormented her with midnight phone calls and relentless demands for attention. Now he's in a psychiatric hospital slowly succumbing to what doctors call the dwindles.
As Dad fades, an anxious Eve passes the details of his condition to her two emotionally distant sisters—Georgia, a successful magazine editor, and Maddy, an actress. Her anxious reaction to each incoming call is a mixture of dread and, finally, hope that the situation will end. As she puts it, "It's just me, Dad, and death hanging out together."
Yes, Eve's a natural worrier—someone who tortures herself with nightmares about having to donate a kidney to a sibling and then frets over the notion that both Maddy and Georgia might need one at the same time.
Hanging Up is a semiautobiographical novel by essayist Ephron (Teenage Romance), whose own father, Henry, author of the movie Desk Set, spent the last years of his life at a Hollywood rest home. Her older sister is writer Nora Ephron (Heartburn), and the only truly affecting relationship in the book is that between Eve and the superachieving Georgia.
Still, the book effectively conveys the sadness a family feels as it prepares for the passing of a troubled patriarch. Though the main characters have a bad habit of wisecracking their way through the tears, readers who can ignore the novel's sitcom sensibility will detect a true and touching humanity in this novel. (Putnam, $23.95)