The angry, controlling mother; the screwed-up child; the spectre of a dead family member — these are all stock characters in Judith Guest’s fiction (Ordinary People), and they all make appearances in Errands. As the novel opens, 38-year-old Keith is battling brain cancer; he and his wife, Annie, and their three kids have gone to spend their last summer together at their lakeside cottage. When Keith dies, Annie returns to work, and her children begin fighting, skipping classes, refusing chores, and otherwise trying to get their overwhelmed mother to recognize their existence. This should be powerful stuff, but Guest never gives readers enough time to like her characters: Keith dies before his role in the family is fleshed out, and Annie and the kids are so unsympathetic it’s hard to care about them. This is a workmanlike portrayal of love, loss, and resolution, nothing more.

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