In the wrong hands, a rotating perspective could be gimmicky, but Ali Smith does well. She rotates the third-person perspective among four family members and the brief first-person accounts of the woman who fleetingly presents themselves in their lives, transforming them.
The best chapters belong to the kids -- 12-year-old Astrid and Magnus, a teenager. While the family is fundamentally unhappy, the siblings have a genuine affection for each other and there's a bit more whimsy surrounding them.
At one point Michael, the stepfather, disintegrates into verse. This is something else that could have gone terribly wrong. It was OK, though. He's a smarmy English professor, though Smith makes him so smarmy that it makes the cliche outrageous.
The mother, Eve, is a bit of a doormat, though she would tell you she just chooses not to be bothered by her husband's smarm.
I read a few reviews after reading the book, and more than one referred to it as a "tour de force." I really can't believe book reviewers think it's OK to do that. Are critics the only people who don't think that phrase has played itself out?
This is near the top of my recommended books for 2006. I'll have it back to the Pratt by Sept. 21.