Picks and Pans Review: Intimacy

updated 02/20/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/20/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Susan Chace

The protagonist of this first novel is a standard, '80s-issue tormented middle-aged modern woman. Cecilia, a reporter, is tormented by romance, sex, infidelity, religion, guilt, conflicted feelings about her parents and modern life in general. Her saving grace—and Chace's—is that she is not tormented by the fact that she is so tormented. She takes it all in stride, with a ready if heavyhearted wit, and never seems to take it personally. At one point Cecilia is confronted by her younger sister, who asks if she "knows about this research that said people who are brain-damaged in a certain part of the brain can't understand pronouns. They can say everything else, but they don't know who is who in a sentence like "I love you." ' " Cecilia takes this kind of stuff for granted, even though it is only too relevant to her life, in that she has an affair with her first husband's brother, has an ambivalent relationship with her teenage son and doesn't mind much when her second husband goes off to Paris alone. Chace, a former Forbes and Wall Street Journal reporter, holds Cecilia's story together even though she tells it in an achronological fashion, with flashbacks cutting chunks out of the progression. Cecilia remembers her older sister, who died as a child, a priest who seemed to have a more-than-religious interest in her and then died young, the fact that she was confused because her father was Jewish and her mother Catholic. She seems desperate for intimacy but uncertain about how to recognize it even if she finds it. What makes Cecilia a sympathetic character—and this an affecting, insightful novel—is that she maintains her enthusiasm and her capacity to be surprised by disappointment. "Evil," she says at one point, "is deception, a lullaby. Evil is a lullaby, rocking, rocking until you know you are cared for, until you are perfectly sure of it, can hold on to it, describe how it feels like being saved, so sure of it you can close your eyes and think: I have found the one who owns me, who owns me so completely he can never be separated from me, can't ever leave me, must love me from now on, always love me, rocking back and forth, loving rocking, loving me. Evil is when you open your eyes and there is nothing there." (Random House, $14.95)

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