Louise, the narrator of this melancholy comedy, has grown up in her sister Charlotte's shadow. Charlotte is beautiful, impetuous and something of a tyrant; Louise is sensitive, calm and meek. When Charlotte is killed in a car accident, Louise takes a leave of absence from the Manhattan school where she teaches music, bids a temporary adieu to her self-obsessed screenwriter boyfriend, and moves to the suburbs to take care of Sam, Charlotte's grief-stricken husband, and their daughters Sara and Annie. The move, with its elements of fantasy--Louise has always adored her sister's children, and has craved stability in her own life--all too quickly raises difficult questions. What, after all, is Louise to do with her own life and desires? How, if ever, is Charlotte's ghost to be laid to rest? In her crisis, Louise is joined by her mourning parents, her irascible aunt Clara, and her bossy, aged grandfather as well as two appallingly marriage-minded neighbors. Louise is a charming narrator, and Schraft has a sharp eye for comedy and manners. Her novel, however beguiling, refuses a pat and easy ending: it is about grief more than anything else. As a closely observed tale of family life, it will strike responsive chords. (Aug.)
When Louise's sister, Charlotte--``one year, three months, and ten days older''--dies in an auto crash, she forsakes her own life as music teacher and lover of screenwriter Richard and steps into Charlotte's . Taking on Charlotte's two children, house, and (mostly absent) husband, she gradually learns that she can stop defining herself in comparison to Charlotte, as she has done for most of her life, and define herself solely as an individual, without losing her memories of Charlotte. Schraft's picture of Louise's immediate relationships (with Richard, with Charlotte's daughters) are not as sharp as they might be; in fact, many of the characters are seen in too-brief vignettes. And the ending is rather abrupt. But in its exploration of a grieving family and in its portrayal of the intricacies of family relationships, this fine first novel is reminiscent of Gail Godwin's A Mother and Two Daughters (LJ 11/15/81), though much less ambitious. For most fiction collections.-- Francine Fialkoff, ``Library Journal''