Picks and Pans Review: Mystery Ride

updated 02/08/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/08/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Robert Boswell

Near the end of Boswell's remarkable third novel, Angela Vorda takes a long hard look at her first husband, Stephen. "She could not understand why, after the miracle of finding real love, they had not been able to manage a life together." Separated from him for 10 years, now remarried and poised to give birth to her second husband's child, Angela still longs for her former relationship, which she abandoned shortly after buying a farm with Stephen in Iowa.

She has, in the meantime, chosen an alternative life in Southern California: marriage to a seemingly well-adjusted Hollywood agent and a suburban idyll that lacks any spiritual dimension. In order to feel a greater purpose, she counsels underprivileged and homeless people and designs a guide for politically and socially conscious consumers. And yet, despite her various attempts to inject meaning into her life, Angela sees her world coming undone in Dulcie, the 15-year-old child of her first marriage. For Dulcie is a brilliant, acerbic, maladjusted young woman, whose irrational behavior seems to be the sad manifestation of Angela's and Stephen's failure to remain together.

Boswell divides his narrative between Stephen's struggling to maintain his cattle farm in Iowa and Angela's contending with Dulcie as well as her husband's infidelities. The result is a resonant multidimensional portrait of a modern family. Enriched by a supporting cast of memorable minor characters, Mystery Ride is humorous, poignant and written with astonishing confidence. (Knopf, $22)

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