Across the Page: New Fall Fiction

Family Affair by Caprice Crane (Bantam Books)

Caprice Crane’s third novel, Family Affair, begins with a question: Can a person win custody of their in-laws in a divorce settlement?

The divorcing couple here is Layla Brennan and her high school sweetheart Brett Foster. Layla’s father left her family when she was young and after her mother died she instantly became a part of the Foster family. Perhaps too instantly, thinks Brett, who now feels like she is more his sister than wife.

Layla and Brett obviously see things differently and the novel features multiple points of view, none all that deeply, to capture the impact of the couple’s separation on the family: Trish, Brett’s lesbian sister who is business partners with Layla and also a voice of reason; Scott, Brett’s brother and secret admirer of Layla; and Brett’s mother, Ginny, who reveals her perspective through letters to her sister.

Though Trish has her own point of view, her perspective is as underdeveloped as the other characters. She plays the smart and witty lesbian sidekick, but doesn’t necessarily have a compelling story line of her own.

The lawyer that Layla hires to handle the divorce doesn’t take seriously her idea to fight for custody of the family, but he does manage to mediate a negotiation that allows the couple alternate weekends with the Fosters.

Neither is necessarily happy with the arrangement and the couple continues to fight over the weekends and compete with each other for the family’s affection. Brett feels betrayed by his family, telling them, “I hope none of you traitors ever need any blood. Because I’m O negative — the universal donor.”

Layla is dealing with abandonment issues from her father’s leaving and mother’s death, plus the Fosters are “they only real family I’ve ever had.”

In the meantime, Brett spends time with another woman named Heather, but is mostly disappointed and disillusioned by the dating scene. As the formula goes, just as Layla finally decides it’s time to move on in her life, Brett begins to change his mind about the divorce.

What is ultimately disappointing about the book is that though the premise is interesting — the idea that we lose more than the spouse in a divorce — Crane does not analyze any of the characters with empathy. Rather than seeing or experiencing the genuine struggle of separation, we hear about it from a superficial perspective.

The story becomes somewhat more complicated when the letters that Ginny has been writing to her sister reflect a larger concern for the family. But for the most part, the book doesn’t crack the surface.

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