Dark, Alice Elliott. Think of England.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 2002.

It’s February 1964 and Jane MacLeod is nine years old, living in Pennsylvania with her parents and three younger siblings, and she’s anxious to see the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. And then the father she adores, a cardiac surgeon, is killed in a car wreck on his way to work at the hospital. Jane, a very serious girl who was the most like him in the family, is convinced it’s all her fault.

And she’s sure her mother — who was on the point of leaving her husband because she considered herself more important than his patients — thinks it’s Jane’s fault, too. All Jane really wants — all she will ever want, all her life — is to be part of a happy family. Her Uncle Francis, gay and astute, understands her better than anyone, but it’s not enough.

Jump to 1979. Jane has finished college and moved to London for a year. She really has to get that far from her family, and from what we’ve seen of them, I don’t think I blame her. She loves the city and she doesn’t mind being seen as a tourist because that’s what she is. Then she falls in with Colette, another American, who is everything Jane is not but wants to be — free, uninhibited, in control of her life, and totally fearless. Colette lives with Nigel, heir to a title, and also gay, and the two are planning a marriage of convenience. Jane loves them both and learns much from them both. Can they become a surrogate family for her? Maybe.

Encouraged by Colette, she’s also trying to become a poet, but everything gets put on hold when she meets and falls heavily for Clay West, a struggling American novelist, and a passionate affair ensues. He’s egotistical, arrogant, and has lots of rules, which Jane can either adhere to or not — her choice. Can she have a future with him? Maybe.

Then we move to 2000, when Jane is forty-five, with a nine-year-old daughter of her own. (The kid’s father was an anonymous sperm donor, which ought to simplify the family thing, but it doesn’t, really.) She goes to a family reunion in honor of her mother’s sixty-fifth birthday, with all her siblings and their own spouses and children, whom she hasn’t seen all at one time in many years. And the old arguments from her childhood appear again. No maybe about it, this family is never going to be happy, she understands that now. But she’s going to make sure Emily doesn’t grow up alienated the way she did.

Dark had published a couple of collections of short stories but this, apparently, was her first (and, so far, only) novel — and a very good one it is, too. She has a great knack for character and descriptive passages, and a terrific ear for dialogue. Why she hasn’t written another book I don’t know, but I wish she’d reconsider.

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Published in: on 18 November 2014 at 6:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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