When the family matriarch, peace-keeper, and intermediary, Joanie Cole, dies in her sleep unexpectedly, her loss tears a hole in the fabric of the Obermeyer family. In their new family configuration, Joanie's eighty-six year old, doddering, and increasingly forgetful husband, Bob, moves in with their daughter Anne, her husband Hugh, and their teenaged children Teddy and Julia. As Bob flounders with the loss of his wife, the rest of the family continues to face the dramas, disappointments, and challenges of their everyday life. Each of the characters lives in the same house but at a remove from all the other members of the family, plugging along in parallel existences, keeping their individual secrets, not confiding in each other, neither seeking nor offering compassion. Joanie had been their bridge so with her gone, they have to figure out how to be a family again, to care for each other, and to repair their thoughtless damage.
When Anne and Hugh were newly married, they moved back to the small town of Cooperstown, NY where Anne grew up so that she could be close to her mother. They've raised their family there and Hugh started a successful preschool called Seedlings in the town. Anne works insanely long hours as an attorney in a neighboring town and she and Hugh have become ships passing in the night, their marriage withering and fading from a lack of attention. And each of them are so caught up in the stresses of their individual lives that they barely notice the lack of a life together, they don't notice how lost Bob is, nor do they notice the confusion and desires of their children's lives.
Narrated by all three generations of the family, the reader has the chance to get inside each of the characters' heads and to see what is driving each of them, how they came to the place they are, and what each of them sees as the way forward. Anne wants a marriage different from her parents' but she has no idea how to make that happen. Hugh is embroiled in an affair with a parent at the preschool and wants nothing so much as to avoid a scandal and a potential lawsuit. Bob is left with his memories of Joanie and the regrets he has over his infidelities even if they were never formally revealed in The Sex Cure, the book that once rocked the town of Cooperstown and a copy of which Joanie inexplicably kept for the rest of her life. Teddy is on the cusp of adulthood, marking time with a girlfriend he doesn't really love, looking forward to buying his own Jeep, insecure about the thought of leaving for college, and having to face certain proof that his parents, his father in particular, has secrets from him. Julia is afraid to go for the things that she really wants in life, not even trying out for the tennis team and keeping her growing feelings for one of her two best friends secret in order to preserve their tight trio.
Wright has done a good job drawing each of the characters and showing how what they are keeping hidden from each other is tearing them apart. She has created a readable, relatable family drama. And although the different narration shows the distance the characters keep from each others' truths in the beginning, when they start to come together as a family, to confront what is real and what is important to each of them, the narrations show that as well. As with life, many of the plot threads are not resolved in the end here but they have been moved forward enough that the end, although still up in the air, is hopeful and realistic. The parallel of Bob and Hugh's infidelities and their fear of exposure, Bob through the infamous book and Hugh through a negligence lawsuit against the preschool, is not as explicit as it might be but the heartache and potential destruction of family their actions provoke is definitely similar. With the perspectives of so many characters needed to fully illustrate the family dynamics, this is an intricate novel indeed. Relationship, families, and what we owe them are all carefully woven into the fabric of this engrossing, strongly character-driven novel.
Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of this book for review.