When the story opens, Sarah finds a letter from Philip, the father of her seven year old son Max. She and Philip are estranged and she never told him that he had a child. Now it looks like he's about to reappear in her comfortable life. Quickly the narrative flips back more than 15 years to the time just prior to Sarah and Philip's meeting, when she is determined to go to the funeral of an old family friend. Maya, Sarah's older sister,a successful businesswoman and former singing sensation who has an outsized presence in Sarah's life thinks that Sarah should not go. But Sarah feels she must. And that one decision leads to so many others that change the trajectory of her life forever.
Alternating between the art scene in New York in the 1980s and suburbia in the late 1990s, the dual story lines flip back and forth in short chapter bursts. The past unfolds the sisterly, almost proprietary, relationship between Sarah and Maya, the advent of Philip and Sarah's growing feelings for him, and the way that these two competing relationships tug and tear at her. Maya is a character that inspires her sister's hypnotic devotion and she keeps Sarah firmly in her orbit by holding her selfishly tight, demanding her own way. Sarah can stretch this bond to allow for Philip's presence in her life, but she can't or won't break it. As her life gets more complicated and fraught, her art and talent are finding expression in her paintings in a world ready to appreciate them. Sarah is a seemingly free spirited character who is nevertheless tied to her past and the expectation of always suiting her sister, even to the exclusion of the man she loves. But she learns the hard way that being placatory to everyone doesn't work. Her fear of the past is clear in her reactions to hearing that Philip plans to arrive on her doorstep a mere day away and she must reflect on her journey to where she is as she anticipates the upheaval his reappearance would surely cause. The question is whether she will have the courage to allow him to reappear. Philip's character is much more opaque, driven as it is by his love for Sarah and his uncanny dislike for and refusal to be charmed by Maya.
The novel is quite slow to start and almost immediately a barrage of characters comes at the reader from two different time periods, complicating the reading. But once the story settles into the two plot lines, the reading gets easier. The writing is intelligent and well done although certain of the characters are undeniably unlikable. Because of the brevity of the novel, some of the relationships and motivations have to just be accepted instead of feeling organically true. As a story of love and relationship, the novel is quite interesting as it reflects the symbolism of Sarah's Love Map paintings, showing the reader where Sarah has been but not showing, not knowing, where she'll go. It is ultimately as unresolved as life but it is also an incisive, if frustrating, look at relationship, a brief glimpse into the art world, and a reflection on mistakes and how to acknowledge and grow past them.
Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of this book for review.