From Publishers Weekly
One afternoon, Vermont housewife Meg discovers that the boy on the school bus outside her door is almost, but not quite, her eight-year-old son, Charlie. It's a typical X-Files scenario, but in the hands of first-time novelist Schupack it becomes an acute psychological study of alienated ex-urban family life. Meg's panic recalls her aloof, restless husband from his job in Canada and her bratty, rebellious teenage daughter from boarding school, but neither they nor the local sheriff nor the family doctor can verify Charlie's authenticity. Unlike the old, asthmatic Charlie, who was both an emotional anchor and a ball-and-chain to Meg, the new Charlie is more mature, robust and adventurous, threatening to follow his father and sister out of the house, untether Meg from her caretaker role and force her to confront her own thwarted ambitions. Schupack writes in a restrained, naturalistic style. Her characters are sharply observed, and she has an ear for familial bickering and the idioms of male withdrawal and teen exasperation ("What's so wrong with the little creep now?"). The central figure of Charlie is not as well realized; he is less a character than a symbol of familial estrangement and a projection of Meg's dread of the confines of marriage and motherhood. As a plot engine, the mystery of Charlie's identity sometimes feels forced (can't someone run a DNA test on this kid?), but the predicament allows Schupack to draw a subtle and chilling portrait of that much scrutinized figure, the postfeminist wife.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Nothing bizarre ever happens in the tiny Vermont town where Meg lives with her husband, Jeff, and their two children: Katie, the recalcitrant teenager, and eight-year-old Charlie, an asthmatic. Then one day Charlie just doesn't seem to be himself any more, although, as Jeff tells Meg, "It sure looks enough like him." In her eerie debut novel, Schupack doesn't struggle unduly over whether the boy on the bus is actually Charlie or not but instead perceptively explores the multiple possibilities for Meg's reaction to his startling presence in their hitherto-normal life. As a mother of an asthmatic, she feels burdened by the corresponding constant "fear, love, guilt, exhaustion, need." She is also bored with her emotionally distant husband and frustrated at her inability to sustain her artistic career. So has she finally "let go of the reins"? Or has Charlie so gradually outgrown his asthma that Meg, straitjacketed by routine, is just now seeing the transformation? "You're the mother, you know what's best," Jeff tells her, but the identity conundrum lingers, remaining unresolved even with the novel's chilling denouement. Deborah DonovanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved