The Fourth Child by C.J. Carmichael
(Harl. Super #917, $4.50. PG) ISBN 0-373-70917-X
****
The summer begins busily for Claire Ridgeway and her three girls. The girls are finishing school and squabbling together as all the normal family routines are winding down in preparation for vacation. Claire is waiting for her husband, Kirk, to come home from his busy job. She had some big news for him. But he has an even bigger surprise. Kirk tells her that he is in love with someone else. He temporarily moves out before she has time to tell him that she is pregnant again.

Claire flees to their summer cottage, the place she went to every summer as a girl. Her high school friends are still there -- and part of the storyís realism comes from seeing not only how Claire and Kirk react to Kirkís announcement, but how their news affects her circle of friends and family. Other than the problems caused by Kirk's long hours at work, Claire and her friends always thought the Ridgeways had a wonderful marriage. The shock waves over its failure spread through many relationships.

The story looks at how a couple might work through the hurt and distrust they have after their marriage goes through a serious crisis. Kirk could be depicted as a villain -- but here he is confused and guilty. He feels as if Claire never appreciated him or what he does and that she never truly loved him. On the other hand, he hates the idea he would repeat the mistakes his father made when he abandoned Kirkís mother.

Claire has even more to learn. She absorbs the hurt her oldest daughter feels at the lies her parents tell to protect the children. She is fearful about the results of the amniocentesis test the doctor tells her she needs. And she is very confused about what she should do or feel with Kirk. For example, when the couple finally feel comfortable enough to have sex together again, Claire realizes that she doesnít feel as if she is making love rather than having sex. She bursts into tears. (That, of course, doesnít make Kirk feel very secure.)

As the summer goes on she begins to realize she shares some of the fault for their separation, although the fault is not obvious at first.

The peaceful family routines and sudden flashes of disharmony, the feel of the summer at the lake, the shifts of viewpoints and feelings, all work together to make an absorbing story. This is a romance, since it is about love, but it is also about other facets of love besides romance -- parental love, nostalgic love for someone else, longtime married love. Itís a summer romance with more meat to it than most series romances because it deals with more serious problems than most series romances.

On top of that, the characters are more adult and have more at stake. By the end of the summer, when the issues are somewhat resolved, you believe the characters have grown enough to accept and work on their problems. You hope the happy ending remains happy but you also know that nothing is as fairy-tale perfect as Claire thought their lives were at the start of the summer.

--Irene Williams


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