From Publishers Weekly
This engaging though slight family romance centers on manipulative psychoanalyst Ernest Wright; his hysterical wife, Nancy; and their teenage children, Daphne and neurotic budding writer Ben. Their household is a magnet for complicated and clandestine entanglements, with narrator Denny, secretary and lover to Ernest and surrogate daughter to Nancy, fetishizing the Wright house as a substitute for the home she never had; and Glenn, Ernest's graduate student and doppelgänger, secretly loving up Daphne. Enter, one Thanksgiving in 1969, Nancy's best friend Anne and her novelist husband, the charming wife-beater Jonah Boyd, who become blowsily seductive surrogate mother and warmly paternal literary mentor to Ben. When the notebooks containing Jonah's nearly finished masterpiece go missing, they take on a mythic status that reverberates through Ben's subsequent career. The tale draws a link between literary creation and family procreation: just as a book started by one writer can be finished by another, the process of psychosexual development started by parents is completed by their Oedipal and Electra stand-ins. Leavitt (The Lost Language of Cranes; Equal Affections; etc.) possesses a limpid style, a gift for characterization and a sharp eye for middle-class family life. But his contrived plot, driven by the characters' obsessions with a talismanic manuscript and a talismanic house (the Wrights cannot bequeath their beloved home to their children because the university where Ernest teaches owns the land), fails to convincingly join together his two themes, the one an exercise in classic Freudianism, the other the sort of writerly pondering of the sources of inspiration that primarily interests other writers.
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Thirty years later, Judith "Denny" Denham recalls the fateful Thanksgiving of 1969, which she spent with the family of her employer, Dr. Ernest Wright of Wellspring University's psych department. Momentous at the time because Nancy Wright's best friend from back East was visiting with her new husband, novelist Jonah Boyd, the day became more momentous because during it Boyd lost his magnum-opus third novel. A few years later, he fell off the wagon and drove into a bridge. The slow revelation of what actually happened that day to the manuscript and among several characters, especially Anne Boyd and 15-year-old Ben Wright, may be the mainspring of the action here, but the dozens of smaller, character-related disclosures Denny makes as she retraces everybody's steps before and after as well as on that day account for the pungent, sad charm of Leavitt's satisfying new novel. Followers of Leavitt's career may note that his nemesis, plagiarism, figures in here, while homosexuality, formerly prevalent in his fiction, does not, and conclude that this is his best novel. Ray Olson
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