Linda Reismann, feisty heroine of Wolitzer's Tunnel of Love, can't get a break. Newly widowed, pregnant, broke and the reluctant guardian of a snarly teenage stepdaughter—all before she's even reached her 29th birthday—she decides to move from Newark to Los Angeles, golden city of opportunity. There, Linda meets Manny, a liquor-store owner who offers her a job and falls in love with her. Just as all her prayers seem to be answered, Manny is fatally shot in a holdup while Linda is in the hospital giving birth to her daughter.
Wolitzer, author of five previous novels including In the Palomar Arms and Hearts, is a master of emotional control. At its best, Tunnel of Love is an engrossing story, full of twists and turns: the L.A. riots, a hitchhiking incident with a psycho, a near-fatal car crash and a demented Hollywood producer all fall into the mix. Although it may seem Wolitzer is trying to fit the afflictions of the 1990s into a single character's life, her theme of hope's triumph over suffering and love over adversity makes Tunnel of Love a compelling novel with a message. (HarperCollins, $20)