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Within Arm's Reach


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. It turns out that other members of the McLaughlin factory harbor secrets no less transformative than the one Gracie holds.

"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."

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 physician.

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, she sees figures from the past. Are they visions, as Catharine claims, or a series of small strokes as her pragmatic family fears?

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, 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, they are often imperfect, sometimes maddening and always fascinating.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 24, 2011

Within Arm's Reach
by Ann Napolitano

  • Publication Date: April 30, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback
  • ISBN-10: 0593732499
  • ISBN-13: 9780593732496