Jessica Shattuck is the author of The Hazards of Good Breeding (a New York Times Notable Book and a Winship/PEN Award finalist) and Perfect Life. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Believer, Wired, Mother Jones, and Glamour, among other publications. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Shattuck's first novel seems determined to demonstrate why the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant ruling class is dying out. The Dunlop family of Concord, MA, and their tony social set are heavy-handedly portrayed as self-absorbed and superficial, showing little benefit from their Harvard educations. Father Jack dabbles with a company involved in ruthless acquisitions and has divorced Faith, who suffered a mental breakdown and moved to New York. Daughter Caroline, a recent Harvard graduate, has moved back home with no prospect of a job; her Zonker-like friend, Rock, has the run of the house. Meanwhile, Eliot, the youngest, bears the brunt of these empty lives, especially after his beloved Colombian babysitter, Rosita, is summarily fired. (We soon learn, along with family members, that Jack had a brief affair with her.) Shattuck tries to take us inside the heads of several characters, but the novel's overall condemning tone dominates. Shattuck would have done better to focus on crafting the story instead of making a comment on WASP irresponsibility. A marginal purchase.-Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
"In her poised and astute first novel...Shattuck unleashes a skewering gift for social commentary." -- New York Times "A generously portrayed and richly appointed debut." -- Kirkus Reviews "[A] thoughtful and elegant first novel, full of insight and humor." -- Roxana Robinson "[A]ll that the title promises and more. It is a terrific debut by a talented writer." -- Jill McCorkle "[A] sterling novel; a deliciously comic and deeply profound look at an American family, indeed at America itself." -- Binnie Kirshenbaum "There are at least 15 certifiable pleasures in every paragraph of this charming, intelligent, and exceedingly well-crafted debut." -- Helen Shulman
Shattuck's debut novel is a social comedy, with flashes of darker import, about an upper-crust Boston suburban family forced to come to terms with the pressures of contemporary life and the ways in which they succeed, or more frequently fail. Patriarch Jack Dunlap is a rigid, seemingly puritanical businessman whose stern eccentricities have driven his wife, Faith, out of the house and into a state of nervous exhaustion. Daughter Caroline, made of sterner stuff, is trying to get used to the family weirdness again after graduating from college and returning home to decide what to do with her life-which will probably not include continuing to see an old beau, pot-smoking Rock. Her little brother, Eliot, is attempting to come to terms with the loss of his beloved Colombian babysitter, Rosita, fired under mysterious circumstances. It is Rosita, a symbol of strength and resilience amid the flaky denizens of her adopted country, who becomes the center around which the anxieties and obsessions of the principals revolve, and she is perhaps too easy a symbol. Shattuck is an observant and graceful writer, and contrives some elegant and touching scenes, particularly as Faith begins to recover a sense of her womanhood with a charming French visitor. But the book, for all its virtues, feels excessively schematic, and various plot strands-like Caroline's involvement with a documentary filmmaker-are dropped too summarily. Blurbs compare it to the work of Richard Yates and John Cheever, but it has neither the somber anguish of the former or the comic, off-center lan of the latter. (Feb.) Forecast: The well-observed New England setting and characters could help this title to do well locally-Shattuck will tour the Northeast-but it's rather quiet to make much of a mark on the national scene. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.