i love it when this happens. i pick
up a book at random from my stack and it turns out to be wonderful.
In A House Named Brazil, 40-ish Fran recalls being 19 and receiving a series of phone calls from her mother, Gloria, who abandoned her when she was 14.
These aren't really conversations. Although Gloria grudgingly asks the occasional perfunctory question about Fran's life, she mostly delivers a series of stories about her own checkered family history. We hear about thieves, German collaborators and damaged war vets among the men, prostitutes, business moguls and gun-happy cranks among the women, all of whom eventually pass through the rambling half-finished house the family call Brazil in the Florida swampland.
All except Fran, the 6-foot-4 giant whose body aches and creaks despite the fact that she's not even past her teens and who is desperate to understand why her mother dumped her.
This is the kind of book that would fail without an airtight structure. You get characters operating in three different periods -- Fran in the present remembering how it felt to pick up the phone 20 years ago to listen to her mother's stories that begin in the late 19th century.
Audrey Schulman, Montreal-born and now living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, pulls it off in this, her third novel. She teases us with characters who appear fleetingly, then reappear for longer, and by hinting about things that might happen and then throwing in another twist so that we want to hear what's going to come out in the next 6-pm-on-the-dot phone call as much as Fran does.
Not just for those working through mother-daughter stuff.SUSAN G. COLE
A HOUSE NAMED BRAZIL by Audrey Schulman (William Morrow), 302 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN