Picks and Pans Review: Sleepwalking

updated 04/03/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/03/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Julie Myerson

Susan is unhappily married to Alistair and uneasily pregnant with their first child when she learns of her father's suicide. He was "a cruel and pathetic sort of a man" who delighted in tormenting his three daughters. He does so in death as in life by leaving the whole of his comfortable estate to one daughter and ignoring the other two.

Though her baby is due in a matter of weeks, Susan, an unproductive artist, begins an affair with a scruffy young painter. And she begins to be haunted by ghostly images of a sullen boy who wears a metal brace around his leg (in fact, her father as a child).

The sleepwalking of the title refers both to Susan's father's nocturnal wanderings in his youth and to the haphazard way that Susan has perambulated through life. She married Alistair, she speculates, because "he's from a large happy family. His mother loved his father, and they all got plaid dressing gowns and jigsaw puzzles for Christmas." She became pregnant purely by accident and can barely contain her fury at her husband for the "deliberate energy of his sperm."

The reader sympathizes with Susan's problems, but it's hard to cozy up to just about any character in this book. Sleepwalking, which at its best is a moving, profoundly unsettling chronicle of a woman's search for self, often overreaches. The author's attempts to fuse Susan's story with that of her father are not particularly successful. But if the novel seems sometimes as adrift as its protagonist, first-time novelist Myerson makes palpable Susan's pain, telling her story in strong, self-assured prose. Whatever its flaws, Sleepwalking leaves readers eager for more Myerson. (Doubleday, $20)

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