VISITS

A novel by Helen Barolini

The novel of development has been most usually that of a male protagonist. VISITS is a novel of female development, recognizing, however that it is a lifetime process and not a one-time identity crisis in youth.

Fran, the middle-aged woman who is the center of VISITS faces a problem common to a woman today who has to progress from being family-immersed to becoming an individual who can live on her own and find gratification in many aspects of life beyond familial relationships. It is about change, about role-shifting, about the mystery and uncertainties of mothering, how the past is passed on, and about homelessness in one of its destructive aspects.

VISITS recounts the loss of a home - not simply the physical structure, but symbolically ALL shelter - the sense of being adrift without secure footing in anything that previously housed beliefs: family, country, church, relationships, institutions, ideals and causes.

At the same time it is also a transforming moment in which to create anew from the old debris.

The novel centers on the House as the focus of family identity and alliances, in the story of Fran, a widow. She and her late husband d Marco, an Italian poet-teacher, had lived with their three daughters in a handsome converted New England barn once the residence of a notable American composer. Fran sells the house after Marco's death, but it remains for her the ideal of a golden period when everything was intact in her life and the future as a family was safe, foreseeable. She thinks of her house as a kind of autobiography, the statement of who she is.

Working as an editor in Boston, Fran meets Houston Kelly, an author of mystery books. He would like to marry her, she is undecided about him, becoming willing only when she realizes that Houston can be a means by which to regain her former house. She proposes a plan whereby they can have the house designated a preservation property in light of its previous association with the famous composer. They will have it moved to a new location on Cape Cod and live there together.

Before the plan is effected, and still feeling uncertain about a life with Houston, Fran attends the Bologna Book Fair and uses the occasion to visit her daughter Dee who has married in Italy. The visit has strange overtones and Fran sees that her daughters' lives are growing distant from hers -- not only geographically, but in other ways. At Fran's return to Boston she finds that Houston, not trusting her, has taken over her idea for the barn-house and has acquired it for himself and another woman.

Stunned into passivity at first, Fran then fights back because the house is more than a structure - it is her deepest sense of herself. It is House in the Greek sense of lineage. At a Holocaust exhibit she has a moment of a wider identification in her recognition in the photograph of a Jewish boy of the son she never had.

She recognizes the reality of change in a world no longer structured by belief in an abiding order. Something new is coming about, and she is part of it. Helen Barolini Maple Avenue Hastings-on-Hudson New York, 10706

EMAIL TO A FRIEND