Sunday April 7, 2013

Special to The Eagle

Towards the final chapters of "A Place For Us," the compelling new novel by Liza Gyllenhaal, something strange happens to the protagonists. Their biggest problem suddenly disappears.

Brook and Michael Bostock have been accused under the Social Host Liability Law of leaving unsupervised four teenagers in their home with an unlocked liquor cabinet and the foreknowledge that their son, Liam, has a noted drinking problem.

They have been shown publicly to be negligent and the result of that negligence was the attempted rape of a young girl in their home.

Suddenly, when the girl's vile father, the accuser, leaves the scene, the case against the protagonists disappears.

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As I understand this law, it doesn't matter if an adult accuser walks away. The case is state-mandated and it goes on regardless. Somehow, in the emotional story that surrounds all of this reality, that issue gets lost.

In a well-written book, with characters that scream reality and who assume a very precious place in the mind of the reader, this plot loss seems almost unendurable.

Another 30 pages would have seen the legal case to its conclusion and the sweet wrap-up of neighbors becoming supportive and a future with less business and more personal relationship could have been stronger, possibly darker, too.

Brook Bostock has a nearly perfect life. A strong catering business in New York City, a beautiful home in the Berkshires, a talented and handsome husband, a young daughter who is both bright and sweet, a troubled son whose life is seemingly under control are the guideposts of her existence.

Sure, her neighbors resent her wealth and sophistication. Sure, her son has this well-documented and seeringly documented teenage drinking problem. Sure, Brook's day-to-day existence is marred by memories of her own childhood and her older half-sister's tiny minded attitudes about her. Sure, all that. But she is still well off and she knows it.

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"A Place For Us" is about Brook and Michael, and their struggle with a marriage that is based on both true love and too many secrets. When their life is overturned by the turmoil created by an abused baby-sitter, it is inevitable that this couple will struggle with every possible sort of damnation.

But there is that perfect ending with the disappearing trick. This is odd because in the conversation the author has in the final pages of this volume she makes it all too clear that it was this very law that inspired her to write the story in the first place.

Gyllenhaal writes beautifully. Her character creations are constant and true to their concepts. Her dialogue is smart and never vapid.

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Each of the principals in the story, and even the secondary characters, are sharply defined and they contribute on every level to the overall crazy-quilt of their fictional existence.

The author gives us more than a journalist would give in telling this story and less than a talented amateur author might provide. She makes it seem that no matter whose point of view we are observing, the story is real and the people are real.

It is a masterfully written book -- except for that missing link to the law.

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It really would have been worth another 30 pages just to find out how such things are really handled by the courts and by the very worthy folks who made a mistake, one that any of us might easily make with our kids.

We trust them, as Brook and Michael trust their son Liam. We don't expect them screw up. But they do, as Gyllenhaal does. But even so, it's a very good read, a well-told human tale.