The Good Children

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE GOOD CHILDREN is the story of the McNair family—Warden and Lee, and their four children ranging in age from six to fifteen. Warden’s job has transferred them to Oregon, and from Lee’s perspective, they are the perfect family moving into the perfect new house. She tells them often that no power on earth can touch a family that stays together and takes up for each other.

Then, Warden dies in a work accident. Lee takes it hard, retreating into herself, and the children—Kevin, Amy, Liz, and Brian—assume responsibility for daily life. They shop and cook, sign checks and pay bills, and deal with the attorney administering their father’s substantial estate. They do this so well that everyone, even the attorney, goes on believing that Lee is still functioning as head of the household.

This, in itself, would be enough for a good story. However, then Lee dies under mysterious circumstances. Without giving away the plot, suffice it to say that the children devise a way to keep her death a secret so they can stay together. With all the ingenuity and bravery they can muster, their deception succeeds for nearly seven years until the youngest, Brian, has a crisis that brings in outside medical, then psychological intervention.

Kate Wilhelm offers twists and turns that will keep readers occupied late into the night. Although the deception grows increasingly more complicated, the McNair children do not think they are doing anything wrong. They are only protecting themselves as best they can, and in spite of everything, they are still a family, just as their mother had said.

The situation is not resolved in a simplistic way; Wilhelm is too smart for that. Her open-ended resolution may still seem a little pat for some readers, but the route getting there is wonderful. Readers are likely to be left pondering the very real issues that Wilhelm deals with in the novel long after the last page is turned.