Ed is the son of a cantankerous pipe-fitting Jewish immigrant, raised in a neighborhood well along the way towards its slide into neglect and crime. He is brash and confident, sometimes abrasive, and determined to make money, lots of it. He's a not altogether successful skirt-chaser too, the sort of man who pursues almost any girl but exudes a whiff of smarmy desperation in his pursuit. So it is not much of a surprise that he connects with Hugh over a girl one night outside the library. Hugh Shipley is a golden boy, handsome son of a wealthy and venerable Boston Brahmin family. He is disaffected in the way that only the very rich can afford to be but he has a kind of casual magnetism about him that makes him irresistible to Ed. And improbably that night, with a little effort by Ed, they become friends. That year, as Hugh reconnects with his old love Helen, also from Hugh's social set, Ed is not so much a third wheel as the indispensible third person and through these two friends and their connections, he gets his first in into the world of high finance. That he also falls for Helen seems inconsequential until Hugh's indirection about his future causes him to take off for Africa to become a photographer or a movie producer or something he knows not what and leave his fiance behind, at which point, Ed and Hugh's friendship is doomed although only Ed understands the true reason why.
Years later, when only the memory of their friendship still exists, and each man has chosen his life's path, for Ed the accumulation of money and for Hugh humanitarian work in Africa and the Caribbean, their paths will cross again thanks to the friendship forged between their teenaged daughters at boarding school. Rebecca Cantowitz, Ed's daughter, splits her time between her divorced mother and father, enabling her to vacation with Vivi Shipley and her parents Hugh and Helen. Rebecca is half in love with Vivi and fully enamoured of Hugh. And unlike their fathers' friendship, the daughters will remain close and a part of each others' lives and family even as they grow to adulthood. Through Rebecca's eyes and enduring emotions, Hugh's and Ed's lives, missteps and all are recorded.
This is very much a slow, character driven novel examining the role of nature and nurture, the eponymous dual inheritance theory of the title, on the creation of these men and their daughters. It weaves nuances of social class, racism, the weight of expectation, desire, and greed throughout the entire narrative. But as much as these larger concerns swirl around, it is the decades of personal dramas which keep the plot moving, especially the frustrated love and/or desire of the Cantowitzes, pere and fille, Ed for Helen and Rebecca for Hugh. Hershon writes beautifully and yet I never felt engaged by any of the characters here, making it hard to sink into the novel's carefully, particularly rendered world. The friendship between Hugh and Ed was a bit baffling to me, at least on Hugh's part, and not drawn as completely and vividly as might have been to explain the magnitude of their rupture, or drift apart, depending on which character is telling the tale. None of the characters seem to have followed the paths they appeared to be on and there is enough of a time gap in the narrative that the reader is forced to take these fundamental changes to their characters on faith rather than seeing and following a steady development. This is a complex, layered novel, well written and thoughtful and yet I remained mostly untouched and rather remote from it as I read it.
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Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.