Custody battle pits sister vs. sister
When endearing, distracted Bridget dies unexpectedly, the battle's on between her two younger sisters for custody of her 10-month-old daughter Jade. This isn't Kramer vs. Kramer, but it is Jean vs. Sunny, and a memorable conflict in itself. With no father to speak of, Baby Jade, who hardly figures in the story until page 157, becomes fair game for the personal passions of two sisters as different from each other as fire and ice. The fire would be Sunny, a spontaneous spirit, happily married with two young children, hopelessly embroiled in financial difficulties, and sometimes confused by her own motivations. Icy Jean is the Machiavelli in this family-war novel, alert to every nuance. However, as a successful businesswoman, she's ridiculously ignorant of even the elemental facts of how to bring up baby, though not unmoved by good intentions and a growing love for Jade. All three sisters have lived in different worlds, the subject of the first half of this book, which might more accurately be called The Crossley Baby's Aunts. The result is occasionally an Alice-in-Wonderland disconnect, in which characters don't always respond as one would expect. Jacqueline Carey has written two other well-received books, The Other Family and Good Gossip. With an eye for human folly ("Marriage was the most intense power struggle Jean had ever known"), she writes rather at arm's length, examining each sister almost microscopically for faults and foibles and the occasional virtue. Authentically opaque at times, like real life, this amusing, sometimes brittle novel can rise to surprising, even poetic, insights: "She was amazed at the problems people thought to have, each as intricate as a snowflake. A boy broke up with a girl sad but at least simple, right? Never. A goodbye could be looked at a hundred different ways." In the end, the sisters have not changed that much, but accommodations are made. Sometimes that is all that can be asked of life. Maude McDaniel writes from Cumberland, Maryland.