Ever since the last of her four children left home during the war, Agnes Schofield had looked forward to their return. After it happens, in 1947, Agnes, widowed many years before, finds that things are not the same. They all come back with new lives of their own, yet the encumbrances of the past have not disappeared. Agnes still harbors a sense of guilt at her husband's death and the children have not outgrown their sense of superiority to the scenes and people of their youth. They felt sorry that they could never explain real life to their parents, or their aunts or their uncles, who no doubt believed that the important things that happened to them were whatever had happened in Washburn, Ohio. And so the Schofield family hangs in there in this multigenerational trilogy of which <b>The Truth of the Matter</b> is the second book, after <i>The Evidence Against Her</i>.

Once again, as so often before, Robb Forman Dew gets it right. And not just right, but close to perfect. This is one of the best books of the year, and if it won its author another prize, it wouldn't be too soon. (She received the National Book Award in 1982 for her first novel, <i>Dale Loves Sophie to Death</i>.) The plot is not unique; it's what the author does with it that impresses. The nuanced story unfolds in revealing increments, like family history. Furthermore, Dew doesn't always get the credit she deserves for the covert humor she unearths in the dynamics of functional families. For example, there's a delicious scene when a pregnant mother, fresh from reading Freud and Spock, endeavors to forestall sibling rivalry in her four-year-old daughter. Somehow she gets carried away with her metaphor of life being like a park bench. At the end, the four-year-old fell fast asleep in self-defense. The truth of the matter is that, if there's anything you learn as you get older, it's that there are some things you only learn when you get older.

<i>Maude McDaniel writes from Maryland.</i>

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