Knopf, 2004 (2004)
Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke
alternates between first and third person, featuring characters in the midst of unhappiness, disruption, and dysfunctional lives. At the center of the story is a trio of young men who sponsor special parties. Gabe's job is to get the girls, Bram arranges for the party house, and Al supplies the booze.
abe and Helen are in the spotlight. Gabe's mother left him when he was seven, and he continues to carry the hurt and hate. Gabe is heart-throb handsome, but never falls for anyone, until a magnificent smile at a particular party. Helen, born with a beautiful soul and a disfigured face, dreams of becoming a plastic surgeon. She meets Gabe at one of his parties. Helen is
with him, just as Gabe finds something special in her that opens his mind and reaches a tender spot never touched by others. Al inherited a loveless home, and meanders indecisively between parties, attempting to fill the void with girls and beer ('
Al is short for Alcohol
'). Bram prefers to stand out from the masses, wears a suit and tie to school, and is referred to as a '
elen's parents reject her when she reveals her pregnancy, and Gabe will not receive or return her phone calls. Helen chooses to keep the baby, takes a job in a diner, and enrolls in a correspondence course. She moves into a boarding house, and when the time arrives, her landlady (Mrs. Evans) assists with baby boy Raphael. (I found the verse description of Helen's labor especially profound.) Mrs. Evans, suffering over a runaway, drug-troubled granddaughter irons to ease her pain - '
when she's ironing she feels as if she's smoothing away her troubles
'. Helen is determined to find the granddaughter after Mrs. Evans is suddenly hospitalized. Needing someone to care for Raphael, she places him in Gabe's care (in an unconventional , negligent manner). Gabe (not knowing the child is his) takes the baby in, even though a
is scheduled at his home while his parents are away.
ubsequent events lead to a happy ending for Helen and Gabe, who remembers the girl '
who saw into my soul, the girl who had a smile that transformed her face
'. Interwoven with the main story are the trials and tribulations of the various families. The novel is infused with drama, hatred and love, fear and complacency, and facing the choices inherent in the unexpected. Margaret Wild looks at each character in a touching, and sensitive light, giving us a profound, heart-rending read. Although all real-life choices are not wrapped in satisfying endings,
's personalities eventually achieve a forgiveness and solace, to which readers will relate.
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