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J. Eden: A Novel

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When three fortyish couples lease a ramshackle farmhouse in the Berkshires for the summer, they think they've found their Utopia. For their children, the farm is a welcome escape from city dangers and disarray, and for the adults, a reprieve from psychic clocks ticking inexorably toward middle age. There's Chad, the high-rolling writer, and his wife Leslie, for whom perfection is the minimum acceptable standard. Advertising executive Calvin is going to write that novel at last, while his therapist wife Jane has ...
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1996-02-01 Hardcover New HARDCOVER, BRAND NEW COPY, Perfect Shape, Small Publishers Remainder Mark on Edge, 523-709.

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Overview

When three fortyish couples lease a ramshackle farmhouse in the Berkshires for the summer, they think they've found their Utopia. For their children, the farm is a welcome escape from city dangers and disarray, and for the adults, a reprieve from psychic clocks ticking inexorably toward middle age. There's Chad, the high-rolling writer, and his wife Leslie, for whom perfection is the minimum acceptable standard. Advertising executive Calvin is going to write that novel at last, while his therapist wife Jane has arranged a sabbatical to take stock of her life. Professor-cum-scriptwriter Zack is also reevaluating his future as wife Polly tries to figure out if she even has one. For a while the promise of renewal seems within reach. The children, teetering on the brink of adolescence, exult in their freedom, while the adults explore the gifts of time and tranquillity. But as the summer drones on the veneer wears thin, and the couples begin to flounder in the miasma of tired, careworn marriages, pangs of only middling professional success, and demands of children whose need for love seems more a distraction than a joy. It is through the children, however, with their own games, secrets, rivalries, and loyalties, that the adults come to see the frail but undeniable connections spun by love, family, and friendship. With multiple narrative perspectives, poignant insights, and sometimes painful honesty, Kit Reed creates a story of individuals confronting the insubstantiality of their dreams and discovering - and surviving - their own flawed humanity.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.)
Kirkus Reviews
Reedian thoughts about life, marriage, middle age, and children when three couples, their kids, and a close friend spend the summer lumped together in a New England farmhouse. As Kit Craig, Reed wrote the richly stylized psychothriller Gone (1992).

This is both Reed's most ambitious novel and her slowest, plowing along like, say, To the Lighthouse—though without Virginia Woolf's prose. What the couples, and the reader, don't know at first is that fine-minded, houseproud Leslie, nonworking wife of the very successful writer Chad, has suckered the whole aging crew into this summer "idyllness" so that she can carry on her affair with one of the husbands, which she's doing in response to Chad's infidelity. All's sportive to start, but summer's lease hath all too brief a term to spend, and by midsummer great cracks appear that lead to despair and tragedy. Reed's storytelling attracts once one gets used to it: Each chapter is in a different character's voice, including group voices as well ("the kids" and so on). Among the players are very rich adman Calvin, immensely jealous of Chad's literary success, and his squashy, plump wife Jane, mother of Rocky and the monstrously hyper little Alfred. Then there's Chad and Leslie's oversensitive boy Timothy, called Lucky, who feels terribly weird entering adolescence. Others are pottery-making Polly and horror-movie writer Zack, as well as Stig, whose wife Roseann has fled, leaving him with their pubescent daughter Speedy. There are a few more nuts and raisins, but the suspense hangs on the question of who's sleeping with whom and what everyone is thinking about aging, parenthood, mortality, etc. These thoughts pile up like padding toward the end, just when you want the climax to take off without the author getting in the way.

Terrific takes on time's rush, with a touch of that personal enlightenment offered to a certain generation of moviegoers by The Big Chill—but less glib.

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