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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

The Good Children
Kate Wilhelm
St. Martins Press/ pp. 224 / $22.95
ISBN 0-312-17914-6

Kate Wilhelm is a writer of contemporary fiction who can't quite be contained by labels. The author of more than thirty mystery and science fiction novels, Wilhelm is a master of psychological fiction. But her psychology is usually dark and provides an eerie, evocative atmosphere. Her latest novel The Good Children is neither mystery nor SF and it's certainly spooky enough to be called horror.

For parents, worry comes with the territory --at one time or another, most contemplate what would happen if their children were left alone in the world. Wilhelm takes this "what if?" and conjectures a chilling, but somehow consoling fable.

After a life of moving about following their father's career, the McNairs have settled in an old house in Oregon. They are a perfect family, finally living in a perfect house after never being in one place long enough to reach outside the family for anything. The mother, an orphan toughened by the streets, believes a family must stay together, no matter what. When the father dies suddenly, the mother is inconsolable and becomes even more isolated from the world beyond her family. Soon after, the four children, ages 15, 14, 11, and 6 find their mother dead under an apple tree. Fearing separation, they decide to keep her death a secret, and bury her in the garden.

The children manage to meet the practical challenges of daily life as well as the emotional hurdles of adolescence. But the youngest, Brian, insists his mother has never left.

Almost three years pass, and the older children grope toward adulthood while Brian turns ever inward. As the eldest prepares to enter college, they finally stage a "disappearance" for their long-dead mother, but for Brian his mother never left the first time, let alone the second.

Writing from the viewpoint of Amy, the next-to-youngest, Wilhelm conveys the notion that the dead can control the living with a remarkable gentleness and understanding. Although the "haunting" at the core of the novel is rooted in psychology, one feels that science is sometimes just a newer explanation for the supernatural. Wilhelm's The Good Children is a lyrically written, effectively chilling story that again proves her mastery as a storyteller. -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.