Boswell maps journey of love, memory

March 08, 1993|By Nancy Pate | Nancy Pate,Orlando Sentinel

Love and the memory of love intersect in Robert Boswell's new novel, "Mystery Ride," which takes its title from a Bruce Springsteen lyric:

Would they ever look so happy again

The handsome groom and bride

As they stepped into that long black limousine

For their mystery ride.

In Mr. Boswell's moving and frequently funny story, the marriage lasts only six years. But the mystery ride continues a decade later as Angela and Stephen Landis deal with a collision of conflicting emotions and their 15-year-old daughter, Dulcie.

It's willful, endearing Dulcie's increasingly out-of-control antics that prompt Angela, living in Southern California in 1987 with her second husband -- a Hollywood agent named Quin -- to drive Dulcie to Stephen's farm in Iowa.

Stephen says sure, come on, but there's an ache in his heart at the thought of seeing Angela again. Although he has gone on with his life -- tending the cows, managing a hardware store -- and recently asked Leah and her 15-year-old daughter, Roxanne, to move in with him, he knows he still loves Angela:

"When Angela divorced Stephen, she had let him have the house and the farm, which she wanted no part of, and the truck, which he needed on the farm, and the furniture, the dog, half of their savings, but she had gotten to keep what he wanted most -- her sweet and rapturous heart."

By the time Angela and Dulcie arrive, they're a mess. Angela is exhausted from trying to communicate with her hostile daughter, and worried, too, that Quin is having an affair and that the life she left the farm for years ago hasn't quite worked out the way she planned.

Dulcie, meanwhile, has hacked off her hair with a Swiss Army knife in a gas station restroom, and then deliberately wet her pants and the car seat. Pulling into the farm's driveway at midnight, both women are spooked by the sight of Stephen, Leah and Roxanne on the porch.

"Angela felt she was seeing the life they could have had if they had not left the farm. It choked her throat, not with regret but with longing, the wish to have it all to do over -- not to correct errors, but to try on again the life she'd discarded."

Throughout "Mystery Ride," Mr. Boswell gives readers glimpses of the life Angela and Stephen once shared, interspersing chapter-length flashbacks that illuminate the characters and intensify the poignancy of their connection to one another.

Mr. Boswell is so in control of his material and such a riveting storyteller that these reversals into the past don't slow down the main narrative, which unfolds a six-month sequence of events: Dulcie becomes best friends with Roxanne; Angela returns to California by way of Arizona so as to visit Stephen's brother; Roxanne falls in love with a local born-again teen; Quin reaffirms his marriage to Angela; Stephen and Dulcie try to save cows in a winter ice storm.

As he did in his wonderful 1987 first novel, "Crooked Hearts," Mr. Boswell orchestrates the story as an ensemble piece, creating such vital characters that one forgets they're not flesh and blood. And as he explores the complexities of family, "the inexhaustible mystery of love found and lost," "Mystery Ride" becomes a bittersweet journey of discovery.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Mystery Ride."

Author: Robert Boswell.

Publisher: Knopf.

Length, price: 334 pages, $22.

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