May 22, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

How two deeply flawed couples undone by secrets, lies, and tragic attempts at parenthood find their lives intertwined and ultimately redeemed is the subject of daring, unsettling, darkly compassionate novel, Ghost Children. Parents don’t come any worse than Satan-worshipping, crack-addicted Crackle and his illiterate girlfriend, Tamara. With their severely neglected infant daughter in tow, they cross paths with Christopher Moore, a kind, newly unemployed man still haunted by his baby’s death many years earlier. British novelist Townsend delves into the horrors of child abuse and the complexities of love with astonishing psychological scope for such a spare, clockwork-precise tale. A-

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