By People Staff
Updated April 18, 2005 12:00 PM
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NOVEL

by Sue Miller

CRITIC’S CHOICE

It is hardly surprising that Miller, who first made her name with The Good Mother in 1986, should write with subtle insight about fathers. Miller specializes in mapping the emotional complexities of modern family life, exposing the pockets of ambivalence and self-doubt that hide within the stronger currents of love and duty and resentment.

Two very different fathers dominate Lost in the Forest: Mark, the handsome but feckless vineyard manager who has broken up his marriage by having a careless, almost yearlong affair with a local bartender, and John, the generous, bear like book publisher who then marries Mark’s ex, Eva, and becomes a stabilizing stepfather to their two daughters. In the first pages of the book, John is killed by a speeding car, a tragedy that destroys the delicate weekend-dad balance among the survivors.

Nostalgic for the heady early days of their romance, Mark begins to court the grieving Eva. He cannot admit that the quieter, less passionate relationship Eva forged with John could run as deep as their own volatile attraction. “I thought I’d try nice this time,” Eva told Mark when he first met John. “I thought maybe I deserved it.” Yet it is Daisy, Eva and Mark’s 15-year-old daughter, who most acutely feels the loss of John’s steadying affection; he had a special sympathy for the sullen gawky girl overshadowed by her pretty sister. When Daisy is lured into a sexual relationship with a cynical, manipulative older man, Mark comes to realize that rescuing his troubled daughter, not trying to lure his ex-wife back to their twenty-something ardor, is the deeper expression of family love. This is a book with few fireworks but a quiet, cumulative power.