Picks and Pans Review: The Half-Life of Happiness

updated 03/16/1998 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/16/1998 01:00AM

by John Casey

Mike Reardon, hero of John Casey's marvelously insightful new novel, imagines that he's in control. A lawyer in Charlottesville, Va., he's married to Joss, a filmmaker; he has two appealing young daughters and a circle of witty, attractive friends. But after a few warning puffs appear on the horizon—a minor accident, Mike's mild misbehavior at a party, the suicide of a friend—his life erupts volcanically when his wife leaves him for another woman. And before he has even begun to deal with the psychic debris, he agrees to run for a seat in the House of Representatives—as a kind of occupational therapy.

Somehow Casey gets everything right: Mike's self-knowledge and self-delusion; the way that Joss's lover Bonnie plays on Joss's needs and longings; the wise, cool voice of Mike; and Joss's older daughter, Edith, who has her own view of what happened to her parents. This long novel never slackens as it draws us steadily deeper into the psyches of Casey's delightfully and excruciatingly recognizable men and women. (Knopf, $25)

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