December 07, 1992 12:00 PM

by Madeleine L’Engle

When celebrated octogenarian actor David Wheaton is preparing to die, he wants nothing more than to play out his dual scenes on his beloved boat. And he wants nothing more than the company of available family members. David has been married nine times and gathered a large cast of children: It’s a large group and a long story, made longer by L’Engle’s pedestrian, pretentious accounting. Unlike Jane Smiley, who attempted a retelling of King Lear in the Pulitzer-prizewinning Thousand Acres, L’Engle, the author of the award-winning young person’s time-traveling tale A Wrinkle in Time, makes no pretense of subtlety. Again and again she reminds the reader how David Wheaton, his clan and their assorted misfortunes are mimetic of King David and his own quite dysfunctional family. Forgivable if repetitive. But what is unacceptable is L’Engle’s failure to imbue Certain Women with a single chapter or verse of mythic resonance or to fashion a single believable character. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $21)

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