Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Family Resemblances by Lowry Pei (1986)

I'm not sure where or why I picked up this used copy of Family Resemblances by Lowry Pei (1986), but I found it in a big box of books at my parent's house when I was home last Christmas and I decided it was about time to read it.

This is a coming-of-age novel written from the perspective of Karen Moss, a fifteen year old girl from Chicago who spends a summer with her aunt Augusta in small-town Missouri. Augusta is beautiful and proud, 35, unmarried, and a teacher who has summers off and lots of time to spend with her niece. Her straightforwardness and her laid back attitude contrast greatly with her sister, Karen's mom, and Karen finds the atmosphere at her aunt's house to be both frightening and liberating. Augusta lets Karen drink wine with dinner and talks to her like she was a grown up -- confessing past loves, sexual exploits, and current romantic entanglements. And then Karen starts up some romantic entanglements of her own with George, a 17 year old in town to visit his grandparents that she meets at the pool. Although they often disagree and sometimes fight, the two women grow closer and closer over the long summer, but like all summers, it eventually comes to an end.

Pei nicely captures the stillness and anguish of that last summer before you get a car and a job, and the tension and exhilaration of a first real romance. The book has a subtle style to it that tricks you into thinking that nothing much is happening right before the emotions and personalities of the characters crash or connect. Occasionally the voice of Karen or Augusta hits a wrong note, but overall Pei gives us two well-written characters and an ambiguous but satisfying ending.

Finally, I'd like to point out that there is lots of nice information about Lowry Pei on his web site, including downloadable PDF files of several of his short stories and this entire novel. I really applaud when authors make their work so easily and freely accessible. Way to go, Mr. Pei!

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