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IN BRIEF

Fiction

October 02, 1994|ERIKA TAYLOR

HOUSE WORK by Kristina McGrath (Bridge Works: $19.95; 192 pp.) Anna has a hard life. Her husband, Guy is not only an alcoholic, but is debilitated by mental illness. Her three children demand constant attention. Money is short. It is Pittsburgh in the fifties. Shifting points of view between Anna, Guy and Louise, their youngest daughter, "House Work," Kristina McGrath's first novel, is more a series of circular inner monologues than a story.

People who think a lot about what may be biological differences between men and women would probably say that this is a very feminine novel. It pools outward instead of forward, is entirely emotionally based, and has an abstract, watery power not easily pinned down by linear-based thinking. Here is Anna considering her relationship with Guy. "There were moments all along when they both understood there was something (What alotta hooey) beyond him (Get away from me) that was in need of her (You're nothing), that would accept her assistance."

The best qualities about "House Work" also make it the most difficult to read. This is a book that takes chances and requires a reader to slide along with its unusual rhythms. Time feels fluid. There are no quotes around the dialogue, and no consistent narrative style--McGrath moves from third person into first then into a collective viewpoint, a "we" voice I've rarely even seen. In addition, the plot sometimes takes an unpredictable turn, going into a long flashback for example or suddenly focusing on previously unknown characters. However, the writing is full of kind of quiet dazzle that lights up Anna's sad family, and ultimately offers hope to all of us.

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