Told in several distinct sections spanning almost 50 years in the Porter family's lives, the novel opens with their arrival for the summer of 1942 with teenaged daughters Helen and Dossy, younger daughter Janie, Scottish nannies Bea and Agnes, but without son Charlie who is in Texas away training for the war. The Point is much changed this summer of '42 though as the government has taken over a stretch of it and has soldiers training there. The presence of the soldiers draws Helen and Dossy, who have been left to run wild, as well as nanny Bea, who experiences first love at the age of thirty-seven, and leads to the incident that causes the Porters to leave their refuge early that summer. But this first section of the book introduces most of the major characters in the novel and exposes their complexly intricate relationships with each other. Amongst others, there's Bea's maternal love for her charge Janie and her vague dislike of Helen and there's Mrs. P. who, despite not being terrible involved in her daughters' lives, casts a long shadow. The distant war come home to roost and the way it has both accelerated life and slowed time to a crawl always hovers just on the edge of the narrative as well.
Jumping in time from that summer with its loss of innocence to Helen's letters home from school in Switzerland only five years further on and then her diaries some fifteen years after the war as she comes again to Ashaunt as a young mother struggling with her feelings of being trapped and stagnant in motherhood and wanting so much the life of an intellectual. The Point bears mute witness to her desperate search for self and how she invests so much in her golden child, oldest son Charlie. Then the summer compound hosts this lost and searching son Charlie in the early seventies as he hibernates from the world after an LSD trip leaves him fighting its enduring and crippling effects. As he tries to hold onto himself and keep from flying apart from within the safety of his childhood cabin retreat, he watches a world torn apart and bleeding in the face of Vietnam, illegal drugs, and the desecration of development. And finally, in the last section of the novel, the narrative comes back to Helen, now an old woman facing her mortality. Although she might have stayed away in the intervening years, discontented and unsettled, in the end, she seeks the enduring sanctuary and peace of Ashaunt Point as she herself comes to the end.
The writing here is measured and slow, reflecting the timelessness of the place within the novel and in fact the very story itself. The world outside of Ashaunt Point is changing but despite the ways in which these changes do press in on the rocky peninsula, there is still a changeless, comforting feel to the natural world and long-time residents of the point. The plot is very much character driven, internal and introspective, and each generation slides seamlessly into the subtly annual picture taken at the cottage. This is an unexpectedly seductive tale, beautifully written with each succeeding generation another wave upon the shore of the place. The characters are alternately remote and confiding depending on their individual personalities. And the impact of the greater family, the casual and quiet emotional connections, is moving and true and beautiful. A novel of belonging, family, and home, where resides the place of your heart, this is a masterful and affecting novel, effortlessly literary, spare, and elegant all at once.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.