Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Lucky in the Corner," by Carol Anshaw

Having enjoyed Carol Anshaw's newest novel, "Carry the One" (and written about it here on 4/8/12), I decided to read one of her earlier novels, "Lucky in the Corner" (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), and enjoyed it as well. The most crucial relationship in the novel is the complex and vexed one between Nora and her college-age daughter Fern, but their relationship is embedded in a tangle of other relationships with lovers, parents, siblings, and friends. Nora, who has a similarly complicated relationship with her own mother, Lynette, left her husband Russell some years ago, when Fern was very young; Nora could no longer suppress or ignore her true lesbian self. She has now been for many years in a relationship with Jeanne, and together they have created a calm and happy home. But Nora's desire for another great passion tempts her to betray Jeanne with Pam. Meanwhile, Fern is doing well in college, loves her Uncle Harold (whose alter ego is Dolores), has a part-time job as a telephone psychic, starts a relationship with James, and becomes increasingly responsible for her friend Tracy's baby Vaughn. She is also in danger of losing her dog Lucky, whom she dearly loves, and who represents to her a kind of stability and continuity throughout all the changes in her life (her parents' divorce, her mother coming out as a lesbian, etc.); he is now old and arthritic, and in clearly declining health. The story moves along quickly, the characters are interesting, and although they are in nontraditional family configurations, readers can relate to the misunderstandings and communication breakdowns among them. What the novel portrays well is the ways in which we all have contradictory impulses that are hard to reconcile. For example, Nora loves her daughter and her partner, yet can't stop herself from betraying them as she follows her passion. Fern loves her mother, but doesn't trust her not to let her down again, so she doesn't let Nora get too close to her. My only reservation about the novel is that its portrayals of the characters, while realistic and sympathetic, do not seem to go deep enough. I found myself wishing that the characters had shared more about themselves. Perhaps because of this, I found the novel enjoyable but not memorable.

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