The Death of an Amiable Child opens with the 6-year-old daughter of social worker Anne -- finding the dead body of their sometime-neighbor, ---, on the apartment house landing. One of the questions Anne must wrestle with through the rest of the story is whether she should have tried harder to help the elderly homeless woman who occasionally slept on the landing -- whether she might have prevented her death if she had forced her to accept social services, instead of respecting her choices.

One of the first appeals of the novel, to me, was that it addressed that question -- and ultimately manages to express the compassion of "I am my sister's keeper" along with accepting the limits of human responsibility for each other, respecting the personal boundaries of everyone, including those most in need.

Not many real-life social workers find that balance. Anne has some other advantages that real-life social workers often have to do without, including a truly wonderful husband and a very good personal support network. Her work is drawn realistically, however -- the author, Irene Marcuse, is a social worker herself. I hope she also has a truly excellent husband and a good circle of friends, although I hope she doesn't have to share a co-op apartment building with some of the more unpleasant characters described in her novel.

Irene must have been a very exceptional social worker herself, because, for one thing, she writes eminently readable prose. Her characters are interesting; I found the villains less believable, and the plot resolution required some reinforcement in the suspension of my disbelief, but I enjoyed the book. I'm looking forward to more -- particularly if they continue to explore the question of how to treat everyone in our society, the privileged and those in extreme need, with equal justice and respect.