Summer Reading

Summer Reading

Carousel of Progress

by Katherine Tanney

Villard, 272 pp., $23.95

Meredith Herman, stumbling through adolescence, has a mother, Leigh, presently undergoing a midlife crisis, a bewildered father, Robert, and Peter, her brother who frequently claims to be Frank Sanchez, an imaginary detective with suspect investigative techniques. "Unfortunately, my mother and I shared an irresistible attraction to ruin," Meredith acknowledges in one of her typically perceptive moments. In the Herman family, broiling under the sun at the race track while Robert attends race car driving school is, curiously enough, the impetus for a family vacation until Leigh abruptly decides she's had enough and zooms back to L.A. in a huff, stranding Meredith, who refuses to return with her mother, and Robert, who isn't given the choice.

In an era frantically concerned with what it means to be a woman -- Carousel of Progress is set in L.A. in the late Seventies and early Eighties -- Leigh desperately uses the tools at hand to determine who she really is (assertiveness training, the grapefruit diet, the Sexual Revolution). For her daughter, who's worried about the usual stuff -- popularity, sex, who she can trust and who she can't -- Leigh is more than just an enigma; sometimes she's a holy terror. "My mother was like the sky. There was no getting out from under her," quips Meredith, who is a striking creation, at once utterly vulnerable yet knowing. Carousel of Progress shares a setting and asks similar questions as Mona Simpson's now-classic Anywhere but Here, but there's something sardonic, poignant, and funny on virtually every page of this sharp and humane first novel despite its quick conclusion.

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Carousel of Progress, Katherine Tanney

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