Veronica and Lillian Moore are as different as two sisters can be. A writer for the popular soap opera, "No Ordinary Matter," Veronica is a pretty, effervescent brunette who dreams of penning a hit musical; her pregnant neurosurgeon sister is a statuesque blond with the emotional warmth of a Frigidaire. When the two set out to learn the truth behind the death of their father Charles 25 years earlier, their lives become entangled in utterly unexpected ways.

Quirky characters and snappy dialogue are the trademarks of writer Jenny McPhee, a frequent contributor to the New York Times and daughter of renowned essayist John McPhee. In this follow-up to her 2002 critically acclaimed debut novel, The Center of Things, the author's reverence for the irreverent continues, as she explores the slippery terrain of a sibling relationship.

With her penchant for Hungarian-style pastries and coffee with extra whipped cream, 32-year-old Veronica puts the joie in joie de vivre. Three years her senior, low-key Lillian lacks her sister's nerve and verve; she collects scores of acquaintances, but few close friends. Still, the two can't imagine life without their weekly chats at a trendy Manhattan coffeehouse.

Lately, these t∧#234;te-ˆ-t∧#234;tes have become trying for candid Veronica, who is keeping a big secret from her big sister. She has fallen for dashing Alex Drake, the new cast member of "No Ordinary Matter," and, as luck would have it, the father of Lillian's unborn child. Though Lillian sees the sensitive Alex as nothing more than a sperm donor she seduced him only once with the express purpose of getting pregnant Veronica is reluctant to reveal this precarious tryst of fate. No Ordinary Matter is awash in whimsical supporting characters, including a tuba-playing private detective and a soap opera executive with the last name of Lust. Start to finish, this smart, lively novel keeps its eyes on the surprise. From a long-lost half-brother to the heady truth about a mysterious death, McPhee unleashes an ever-twisting plot that pops and crackles on the page.

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