Martha Southgate
January 22, 1993 AT 05:00 AM EST

Imagine that your first memory is of your father beating your mother bloody. Imagine also that this is an almost daily occurrence in your home — you and your mother are constantly in the way of those flying fists. Then imagine how you’d feel if you discovered at age 14 that your father had been married before. But that woman is dead. He murdered her.

This is the story that Lorenzo Carcaterra didn’t have to imagine: He lived it. And he has struggled valiantly to tell it in A Safe Place. Carcaterra, a former writer for People and now a TV editor, has chosen an almost impossible task: making us see his father as something besides a monster. He doesn’t completely succeed — but few people would, given this story.

The problem is that the scenes of relentless, almost unbelievable brutality are rendered in such fastidious detail that the descriptions of his father’s occasional attempts at kindness read almost like the author’s attempts to try to convince himself it wasn’t all bad.

And maybe it wasn’t. Certainly Carcaterra found enough good in his early life to help him survive the rest. But how he did so is a mystery you’ll wish he had explored. B

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