Jeff Giles
December 20, 1991 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Four of Us

Current Status
In Season
Elizabeth Swados

We gave it a B

The Four of Us is a memoir about a flailing, fractured family. Swados devotes a chapter each to her vivid, schizophrenic brother, her depressed, alcoholic mother, and her decorous father, as well as devoting one to her own attempts to transcend all of the above with time, distance, and work, work, work. Giving each character his or her own chapter is a nice metaphor for a family that lived together alone. As far as the narrative goes, though, it means that Swados must tell essentially the same story four times. The first chapter, which was excerpted in The New York Times Magazine, is transfixing. It concerns Swados’ brother, Lincoln, a latter-day Heathcliff prone to wild, self-destructive acts of love and rage. Lincoln proves an impossible act to follow. The subsequent chapters are, by comparison, dreary and disjointed. B

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