William Riordan is an emerging lawyer at a renowned law firm in New York City. However, just as his grueling hours of being an associate seem to be over, he finds his marriage has made a turn for the worse. This turn seems to be echoed by his own mental state, as he begins to wonder whether excelling at a job where helping killers and rapists go unpunished should be rewarded with money and esteem. While the plot of the novel is not new, the manner of its presentation is nearly poetic in its execution. As Riordan and his wife's domestic situation worsens Passaro's prose is nearly Fauknerian in its presentation: "We talk about divorce like fishermen discussing distant, dangerous seas. Big fish there. Very far. Weather bad. Sitting on the side of the bed." Passaro pushes Riordan through vaults and turns as he is forced to choose between being loyal to himself or his job. The book is gripping from beginning to end as Riordan's path is forced into one of either destruction or redemption.
Francis W. Decker
A Ghost in the Machine
In Alice Sebold's highly touted first novel, "The Lovely Bones" (Little Brown & Company, $21.95), the afterlife is sort of a mix of a cough-syrup binge and a voyeur's paradise. Susie Salmon, the narrator of the novel, is a dead 14-year-old girl, murdered by a quiet dollhouse-maker who evades police. From her gauzy vantage point, Susie watches as her family and suburban town react to her death. Grief boils hot for her father and sister, while her mother recoils. Her death unites outcast Ray Singh, the only boy she ever kissed, with budding Sylvia Plath-wannabe Ruth, who feels Susie's presence. Whenever people speak of her, Susie hovers over them, nearly addicted to her own memory on Earth. From her shifting afterlife made up of cute gazebos and playgrounds that whirl around at her whim, Susie watches the town transform.
The idea of this novel is highly appealing; not only are our loved ones watching over us, but we get to keep tabs on the ripples caused by our life and death, like an angsty teenager wishing they could see how everyone reacts at his funeral. However, as grief fades and the town reforms into a new normality the story becomes simply a collection of moments. What tension there is concerning the family's ability to heal is predictable and somewhat dull. Sebold's writing is nothing short of gorgeous, though. The attention to detail is striking and exact. Susie's narrative voice flawlessly shows actions while expressing her plaintive sadness about never having a chance to grow up. As a long and lovely monologue the book is entertaining, but those in search of a driven story should look elsewhere.
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