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Book Review


by ANN M. COLFORD & r & & r & Good-Bye and Amen & r & by Beth Gutcheon & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he most notable thing about Beth Gutcheon's latest novel isn't that it's a sequel -- or, indeed, the third book exploring the same extended family and community. No, the most surprising aspect is its structure: The story unfolds in a sequence of first-person soliloquies by characters both major and minor. It's easy to visualize a play, with the stage in darkness save for a single spotlight that illumines first one character, then another, and another, as they address the audience in turn. Forget about quaint notions like point of view and narrator; this book has dozens of each.

At the outset, the three adult Moss children have gathered in the family's Connecticut home to divide up what's left from their parents' estate, including the home where they summer in Maine. (Yes, these are people for whom "summer" is a verb.) Their mother -- as controlling in death as she was in life -- decreed a lottery system for the process, and Eleanor, Monica and Jimmy take turns choosing one item at a time in a prearranged order. (Jimmy, the youngest and favorite, was designated by his mother to go first.) Feelings are hurt and old wounds surface as the siblings, their spouses and children, and an array of neighbors, friends, colleagues and busybodies all weigh in with their own versions and theories and interpretations of events both past and present.

Enough backstory is revealed along the way that it's not necessary to have read the two prior books in the series. And while the chorus of storytellers feels chaotic initially, it's actually quite a natural way to learn about the dynamics of any group. After all, life doesn't provide us with an omniscient third-person narrator; the only way to suss out a reasonably full version of any saga is to listen closely to the various accounts given by the people who have been part of it.

All of Gutcheon's individual construction-of-identity monologues ring true, and there is some dramatic tension. If you prefer action to conversation, there are plenty of other books on other shelves for you. But if you're intrigued by the nuances of relationships and the ways people tell their own stories, you'll be satisfied.

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