Many men have an over-riding love to whom they compare all others for the rest of their lives. They compare all reality against the precedent set, usually by their mothers. But what if that one over-riding love wasn't a man's mother, but instead, someone outside the family? Someone without the Oedipal baggage? Such is the story played out in Larry Watson's Laura.::: The Plot :::Paul Finley is an 11-year-old boy, the son of a book editor and a professor, when he first meets the fictional poet Laura Coe Pettit. Long used to a steady stream of writers and poets of note being at his home, Paul is instantly smitten with the intriguing Laura, who creeps into his room during a party for some privacy and alludes to a possible affair with Paul's father.Her bike ride with Paul the following day is an attempt to cover her slip the night before, but it also serves to cement Paul's crush, which follows him throughout his life.Paul narrates the story of his life in terms of his meetings with Laura. A quick dinner when she is in town, his parents' divorce, a weekend in Minneapolis, his father's death, his first relationship, and an anti-war protest in Chicago all become seminal moments in Paul's life that are defined by Laura. Even his marriage is affected not once, but twice, by his inability to envision a life without Laura in it.::: The Book :::Larry Watson's literary conceit could have crushed the book; an 11-year-old boy falling in love with his father's mistress reeks of cliché, especially when Paul accidentally walks in on his father and Laura having sex. Watson's light touch, however, shows Paul's evolution as a character and as a man, while searching for his own truth and the truth of his strange relationship with Laura.What keeps Laura from being a brilliant book is what happens to Paul's character once he is an adult with a wife and children. Watson found the perfect voice for Paul as a child and adolescent, an awkward, shy boy who fell in love with a woman not only based on looks like so many of his peers, but based on a unique personality. As an adult, Paul loses this voice, and whether it is intentional to show the character's own confusion or not, it feels very disjointed, particularly when you feel as if you already know Paul.The ending itself tries too hard for a quick closure for which there can be none, and otherwise diminishes a compelling story.::: The Characters :::While the book is narrated by Paul, as the title suggests, this is a book about Laura, and the author's characterization is so compelling that I actually found myself online verifying that she was, in fact, a fictional character and not some poet I had missed in my survey classes. Watson gives Laura a personality so vivid and so real that you are sure that she must have been.Paul's other family members, however, seem almost incidental. Brief sections on his mother leave the reader wondering how her marriage began and got to the point it was at when we first meet Paul's family, and his father seems almost a caricature designed to do nothing more than explain Paul's path in life. Paul's sister, in particular, is nothing more than a Greek chorus, with little to do other than verify Paul's take on their shared childhood. Had Paul been an only child instead, the book would have been no different.::: Overall :::Watson's Laura was an excellent read, and a book I found I couldn't put down. However, it leaves the reader frustrated by a book that might have been.