Books: Full Terms of Endearment

A daughter comes of age. And a mother does too

The love between mothers and daughters can weather a thousand tiny betrayals. What teenage girl has not grimaced, on occasion, at the spectacle of her mother's perceived inadequacies? And that contempt can flow easily, prompted by no more than a gesture of unwanted maternal affection. Nor are mothers above sin, particularly when their daughters threaten to surpass them.

Elizabeth Strout tests the strength of that umbilical bond in her first novel, Amy and Isabelle (Random House; 304 pages; $22.95). In the small New England town of Shirley Falls, Isabelle Goodrow is a single mother with a shameful secret: her daughter Amy,...

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