by Ann M. Colford & r & & r & Owl Island by Rebekah Nathan & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hy do women fall so often for men who are charming narcissists? This question arises while reading Owl Island, the newest novel by Seattle author and screenwriter Randy Sue Coburn. How does a woman break free from a narcissist's orbit? And why does it take decades -- or, in this case, 351 pages?

The protagonist, Phoebe, is self-sufficient in so many ways -- she owns her own business in a tightly knit Puget Sound fishing community, she raised her daughter alone after the accidental death of her husband, and she's the spark of life at an annual barbecue for her neighbors and friends. And yet she harbors a secret from her past: a man named Whit, who was her seducer, her confidant and her lover. He was the Peter Pan to her Wendy, a man who used her as his muse and then tossed her away after her efforts launched his career as a famous film director. And now he's her newest neighbor.

Owl Island veers dangerously close to the predictability of Chick Lit -- woman obsesses over wrong man while Mr. Right lives quietly and patiently next door, waiting to lavish her with a deeper, truer love. Even without that label, though, it's definitely a women's novel. Women readers will want to sit Phoebe down and tell her that Whit's no good for her, that he only cares about himself, and that he's not worth all the mental and emotional anguish she puts herself through trying to figure out his motives. But in fiction as in life, these are lessons that Phoebe must come to on her own. And it takes her an annoyingly long time to come to that truth. Only when she recognizes the spiral of thought that centers all her energy on Whit, at the expense of herself, can Phoebe get her feet on the ground. Sooner or later, Wendy has to leave Peter Pan in the Land of Make-Believe.

Beneath the romantic obsession on the surface is a study of the relationship between mothers and daughters, and how the slights and chagrins of one generation manifest in the next, and the next. For Phoebe, the process of sorting through the patterns in her relationships with her long-dead mother and her vibrant twentysomething daughter lead her to greater clarity, although the resolution is more individual than universal. Owl Island tries to render one woman's journey into a tale of hard-earned, fragile growth, but by the end, it's hard to care.

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