FORTUNATE LIVES is the sequel to Dew’s earlier story of the Howells family, DALE LOVES SOPHIE TO DEATH (1982), a best-seller and winner of an American Book Award. Like its predecessor, FORTUNATE LIVES is set in a small New England town and deals primarily not with high drama, but with the stresses, conflicts, misunderstandings, and reconciliations of ordinary life.
This novel is set six years after DALE LOVES SOPHIE TO DEATH, during the summer before eighteen-year-old David Howells is scheduled to leave for college. Quite naturally, his imminent departure reminds both his parents of the accidental death of their other son, which was the central event in the earlier novel. With extraordinary perception, Dew shows how this impending loss merges with the still unresolved grief felt by both Dinah and Martin Howells. Martin’s response is an action which is to have unfortunate consequences; in an attempt to deny his anger toward Owen Croft, the young man who was responsible for his son’s death, Martin hires him and pampers him. Dinah’s reaction is more passive; battered by recurring sorrow and bewildered by David’s venomousness toward her, she becomes a domestic automaton, continuing to pack trunks, run errands, and cook meals, even though she has neither hope nor joy.
FORTUNATE LIVES is a superbly realistic book, full of the comic misadventures, the sad misunderstandings, and the small, heroic deeds which make up everyday life. It is also a positive book, whose real protagonist is not any individual, not even the admirable Dinah, but the Howells family, which refuses to be fragmented, and survives a difficult summer stronger than ever.