cover image J. Eden

J. Eden

Kit Reed. University Press of New England, $24.95 (315pp) ISBN 978-0-87451-746-0

Four New York families share a milestone summer in a New England country farmhouse in Reed's (Catholic Girls) cleverly assembled and often insightful, if somewhat too leisurely, new novel. Tired of the big city's distracting pace and unnerved by the doubts of midlife, the four couples gather their kids and retreat to the farm where they hope to slow down enough to remember why they are there. Reed's ambitious strategy of telling the story through 11 of the novel's 14 central characters gives the narrative a psychological edge, and the dialogue is crisp and nicely inflected. But some readers may find that the bulk of the novel meanders too slowly through predictable lives. The archetypes are familiar: Chad, a successful writer smugly unimpressed with the world; his wife, Leslie, glamorous, talented, staving off boredom by aping her husband's infidelity; Calvin, a charming, moderately successful but unfulfilled businessman envious of Chad and pretending to write a novel; his wife, Jane, tired of being plain. Then there's Roseann, reclaiming her youth through an affair with a younger man; Stig, Roseann's solicitous cuckold; Polly, a ditzy blond trying to renew herself through pottery; her husband, Zack, an overeager young professor perennially writing a screenplay. The kids are recognizable as well: the attention-starved troublemaker; the shy, effeminate talent; the searching, pubescent girl. Two characters manage to crack the shell of their stereotypes: the respective plights of Chad and his son, Lucky, entwine poignantly in the calamitous denouement, drawing the novel to an affecting close. (Mar.)