by Dennis McFarland
Francis Brimm, an acclaimed news photographer, a man always more comfortable with peering at life than participating in it, has, at 73, retired to the Florida town of his boyhood. “He would read, sleep, visit the beach, fish, garden a bit, whatever he pleased—the pastimes, he imagined, of solitary” old people of some accomplishment.” He would also reestablish ties with his older sister, Muriel, an unadventurous, churchgoing woman who, as she ruefully notes, has her own claim to fame: “having stayed in one place for three-quarters of a century.” But both Brimms are haunted by recurring dreams—Francis of a woman he photographed during World War II, Muriel of puzzling childhood incidents—and by a grisly local murder.
Never fond of dealing with the past, Francis and Muriel are now forced to confront it, and they are crumbling in the process. Despite rich character delineation and the frequent power and beauty of the novel’s prose, the reader may feel as unanchored and frustrated as the Brimms. After enduring detailed descriptions of the siblings’ many, many daydreams, woolgatherings and nightmares, there is every reason to expect a larger—and less predictable—payoff than is offered. And after a murder is introduced to the story, readers have every right, lo expect its adroit and significant incorporation into the novel’s climax. Unfortunately, School for the Blind never quite finds its way. (Houghton Mifflin, $21.95)