Family Practice by Bobby Hutchinson
(Harl. Super #844, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-70844-0
Family Practice is almost too close to mainstream women's fiction to be a comfortable read. Yes, it has the obligatory HEA, but getting there is a painful, cathartic experience for the characters and the reader.

In the prologue we meet Polly and Michael Forsythe, who have just endured a parent's worst nightmare. Their lovely nine-year-old daughter Susannah died nine days ago. Polly, who's been considering suicide, is begging Michael to admit her into the psychiatric ward. She's pleading for something to ease her pain and loss. Michael, a doctor, is almost at a loss on how to help her. He can barely help himself. He's holding on by increasing his patient load, trying to obliterate his pain with exhaustion.

The story begins fourteen months later. Polly and Michael share the same house, but are almost strangers. Polly, who wants to hold onto Susannah's memory by talking about her, finds that Michael is a brick wall. He won't discuss Susannah. He's working longer hours, while Polly fritters away her time by shopping. And more shopping. Her life is empty, shallow and she doesn't give a damn.

The first event that jars them from their vacuous existence is the loss of their savings and investments. Michael's business manager has absconded with most of their money. Michael doesn't want to tell Polly. He knows that she has little else in her life.

The second event, more jarring, is the arrival of four-year-old Clover, the daughter of a handyman who was injured while working for Polly's mother. With no one to keep the child, Polly becomes her babysitter. Polly, whose life is one big empty shopping expedition, immediately misses her freedom, although she was doing nothing of substance before Clover came.

Polly thinks that Clover is an unappealing child, so unlike the lovely Susannah that Polly immediately dislikes her. And it is mutual. Clover is a brat around Polly, but turns into an angel with anybody else, most especially Michael. The underlying cause of Polly's despair is the constant torment that a little cipher like Clover is alive, yet her beloved Susannah is gone.

Clover is the real catalyst that causes Michael and Polly to begin to see how their treatment of each other and themselves has deteriorated into nothingness. Michael is such an enabler that Polly has followed his lead and not approached anything head on.

The possibility of Polly getting a job is never considered. To economize, she cleans her own home. When Michael finally states that they'll have to sell their home, she pitches a hissy fit. No, this is Susannah's home, Susannah's memorial.

Family Practice has a realism that drew me into the story. What happened to Michael and Polly does happen to everyday people who face a tragedy. Communication does break down. Sex becomes lackluster or even an obligation. Lack of true purpose becomes an issue. That's exactly what happens to Polly and Michael. I found it painful to read. These two love each other, yet are unable to express that love.

Many readers enjoy stories that are darker, more complex, more angst-laden. This one is all three. It's good at what it does. While I can't say that I enjoyed the story, I did appreciate it. And it was hard to put down.

Just be aware that Family Practice deals with terrible loss and takes a painful, realistic look at emotional healing. If that premise sounds like something you'd be interested in, grab this book.

--Linda Mowery

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