Picks and Pans Review: Family History

UPDATED 05/05/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/05/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

By Dani Shapiro

Any mother knows that you can do everything right to raise your family, and things may still turn out wrong. In Shapiro's new novel, Rachel, a former art restorer, watches her family crumble: Her teenage daughter Kate, "captain of everything at school," spirals out of control; her toddler Josh may have brain damage as the result of an apparent accident, and her husband, Ned, an artist and schoolteacher, is accused of sexual misconduct.

Shapiro's writing shines in describing a distraught Rachel as she clings to the scraps of her family's former life. Imbued with the same realism that made Shapiro's memoir Slow Motion so gripping, Family History reads like a true story. Careful attention to detail and vivid flashbacks reveal only how—not why—events happened, until the final pages. Sometimes the choppiness of the time scheme can cause vertigo, but the overall effect is to create a web that lures readers in, curious to find out who is guilty of what and whether the ending will be happy. (Knopf, $23)

BOTTOM LINE: Powerfully hits home

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