Picks and Pans Review: The Family Tree

updated 02/14/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/14/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Carole Cadwalladr

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"Later, I picture them having sex. Then, more cheerfully, being consumed by twenty-foot flames." This line about a husband suspected of cheating encapsulates the poignance and amusing fury behind this first novel, a coming-of-age tale set in England. When we meet Rebecca Monroe, 8, in the mid-'70s, she is the uncoverer of family secrets—and the reluctant keeper of her own. With her father and princessy sister, Rebecca tiptoes around her manic-depressive mother, Doreen, who is refusing to leave her bed for weeks at a time. Cadwalladr easily switches between Rebecca's childhood and her present-day marriage to a chilly cheat of a geneticist whose questions about whether we're doomed to repeat our parents' mistakes are the book's subtle framework. Mostly this is a novel about disappointment—what happens when we succumb and when we learn to overcome it—and about seeing our parents' flaws from the perspective of adulthood. While some have labeled The Family Tree chick-lit, don't be fooled: In fact, this is lit that happens to be written by one very clever chick.

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