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Good-bye and Amen    by Beth Gutcheon order for
Good-bye and Amen
by Beth Gutcheon
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Good-bye and Amen is a novel. It says so on the front cover right under the title. True, authors have great liberty in the way they organize works of fiction and some are lionized for using new, innovative forms, but this novel reads more like a play. Characters' names appear with their words following and after as little as a sentence or as much as several pages, the name changes and we have a new speaker. The book could be performed, a la Our Town, with each speaker coming forward in turn.

A reader expecting to read a novel is disconcerted at the beginning of this book, not only by the rapidly changing voices, but also by the words in italics, which at first seem to be just an omniscient voice. We learn after a few pages that when the italics appear, we're hearing from someone who has died and is speaking from the spirit world. Okay, so the reader adjusts, struggles to figure out who everyone is, and moves on. Too bad that characters' biographies are at the end of the book and the reader discovers them long after becoming well acquainted with most of them. Of course, that fact is mentioned in the table of contents, but who bothers reading the table of contents in a novel, anyway?

There are sections that are clearly labeled, and the first is called The Lottery. The three children of Laurus and Sydney Moss are gathered together in the house where they grew up to divide the belongings of their parents, who had recently died together. The will specified that this would be accomplished by lottery, which should ensure that each of the three adult children would get something that they really wanted. Unfortunately, by the time Laurus and Sydney die, there are numerous grandchildren, who are also old enough to have developed sentimental ties to certain things, so the parents wish to make their children happy as well as themselves. We learn a lot about the three children, Eleanor, Monica, and Jimmy, and their wives in this section.

The story moves ahead from there, detailing the lives of the three orphans, their relationships with their parents, and their children, but the account of Monica Faithful and her family becomes the major story. Monica is married to Norman Faithful, an Episcopal priest. He has two children by his first wife and together they have one child, variously referred to as Edith or Edie. Monica has been verbally abused by her mother, escaping from her pain into books. She reads voraciously, strives to be a good mother to all three children, is almost always nice to everyone, and trusts her husband implicitly.

There's not much plot to this book. Family relationships are the main focus and Monica is the main character. The story meanders gradually from character to character until the end, when we come to understand everyone, their motives and their choices. Someone who enjoys reading case histories will find this book engrossing. A reader who likes a good solid plot, leading from one significant event to another, will not make it past the first seven or eight pages. Once I got into it, I liked it well enough, but not nearly as well as an earlier novel of Gutcheon's, Still Missing. There was a definite plot in that novel, and we cared what happened to those characters more and more as the plot developed. We do expect to find similarities in the works of an author, and this book was disappointing in comparison to the earlier work.

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