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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

People marry for many reasons, but middle-aged Isabel’s motives seem notably uncompelling even to herself. After two years of widowhood, she still can find no joy or even emotion in her life. When Paul Simmons, seemingly a fine man with an appropriate job and background, proposes, she accepts. It is a step taken more out of desperation and loneliness than love, but she expects that love will come.

Whether this match might have worked under other circumstances is unknown. The couple’s summer as newlyweds at the Simmons family’s Adirondack retreat proves disastrous. With Paul’s parents and his brother vacationing there too, all the family’s faultlines reconnect. Old grievances resurface with new twists as the lazy summer days creep by.

Isabel is caught up in the turmoil. Scenes from her troubled first marriage replay continually in her mind. The sexual and romantic connection she’d hoped for does appear. Unfortunately it’s not with Paul, but with his brother Whit. She and Whitney share a common interest in ecology, but the attraction that draws them together seems more one of fate than of shared interests. Naturally, fraternal jealousies explode, strengthened by Paul’s resentment of Whit’s happiness in his career.

For all its emotional sturm und drang, Sweetwater’s tone—and the characters’ behavior—is remarkably low-key. These are “nice,” establishment people, and their conflicts surface in biting verbal put-downs rather than physical acts. Still, the story packs some surprises and even shocking turnarounds. Any reader fascinated by family dynamics will find some thought-provoking material here.