Picks and Pans Review: My Heart Laid Bare

updated 06/08/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/08/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Joyce Carol Oates

"So long as I have breath, strength, genius, and cash—I cannot go down in defeat." So muses Abraham Licht, a con man extraordinaire who arrives in rural New York in 1891 to raise his six children and teach them "the game"—the art of the swindle—which he sees as the only way to survive in a hostile world. Chronicling the family's fortunes (and deceptions) up to the 1930s, Oates paints a dark vision of America as a land where love of money is the root of everything and people are doomed to repeat their crimes. Oates, who rarely falters throughout this epic, does offer glimmers of justice and hope. But ultimately she has written an American tragedy. (Dutton, $26.95)

Bottom Line: Part history, part Dynasty—the riveting story of a flimflam man and his clan

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