Novelist Maria Flook, author of 1995's Open Water, has now turned to memoir writing. And like practically every other memoir these days, hers centers on her troubled family. But what a viper's den this clan is: Flook's mother Veronica—an icy Vivien Leigh look-alike—mostly ignores Maria and big sister Karen but tries to seduce their boyfriends. Ulcer-ridden Dad is too busy knocking back Pepto-Bismol to protect the girls from Mom's malice. Then 14-year-old Karen, Maria's sister, runs away from their upper-class suburban Delaware home and becomes a prostitute in Norfolk, Va. And just when you think things can't get any worse, Karen turns up on the family doorstep, emotionally and physically battered, and her mother promptly commits her to a mental institution.
Flook is more effective writing about Karen's degrading exploits in a sordid underworld—where the teenager attracts every sleazeball known to mankind, including a Bible-thumping preacher who rapes her—than in describing her own minor descent into delinquency. Always graphic and frequently brutal, Karen's scenes are written with such urgency that one wants to reach into the pages and rescue her. Fortunately there's no need: Flook reports that Karen is now, astonishingly, leading a stable married life with children of her own—stable enough to consent to this raw portrayal. (Pantheon, $25)