Within Arm's Reach
When three generations of the Irish-American McLaughlin clan come
together for Easter dinner, everyone is on edge. "We are family,
but we have very little in common except that we are all terrible
at small talk," notes medical student Lila. Gracie, Lila's sister,
is even more nervous about this family gathering than usual. Gracie
is hiding a big secret --- she's pregnant and unmarried. In
addition to Gracie's dramatic secret, other members of the
McLaughlin factory harbor secrets no less transformative than the
one Gracie holds.
In six distinct voices, Ann Napolitano skillfully brings these
secrets to life. There's Kelly, Gracie and Lila's mother, who so
desperately longs for her own identity that she rents out a motel
room where she can feel utterly herself (and, later, where she can
bring her lover). There's Lila herself, a brilliant young woman
whose photographic memory served her well in medical school but
can't provide the bedside manner she needs to be a successful
Most memorable is Catharine, the matriarch of the family. Wise,
instinctive and haunted by the deaths of her own babies years ago,
Catharine hopes that Gracie's new baby will mean a new beginning
for the family. As she remembers her past and looks toward the
future, Catharine sees figures from the past. Are they visions, as
Catharine claims, or a series of small strokes as her pragmatic
Lila fears that her generation has lost the drama, the vibrant
stories of her parents' generation. "Our problems were normal and
boring; we couldn't come up with one knee-slapping story among us.
We had fewer brothers and sisters, fewer brawls, fewer secrets."
The stories told by Lila and Gracie, though, as well as the
impending arrival of the next generation, seem to indicate that the
McLaughlin family saga is far from over.
WITHIN ARM'S REACH is a rich and multi-faceted character study.
Each of its narrators has a unique voice and a memorable story to
tell. As the McLaughlin family story unfolds, its tellers overlap
(and sometimes contradict) viewpoints, giving their own accounts of
events. Although there are few surprises or revelations in the
plot, the real treasure of this rich first novel is the depth to
which we come to know these characters. Much like families in real
life, these characters are often imperfect, sometimes maddening,
and always fascinating.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 24, 2011
Within Arm's Reach
- Publication Date: June 29, 2004
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Shaye Areheart Books
- ISBN-10: 1400051886
- ISBN-13: 9781400051885