Suddenly a surrogate mother of three, spinsterish Clara discovers love and meaning in a Anne Tyler–esque domestic drama.
Although lacking sufficient bitterness to counteract its saintly sweetness, Endicott’s second novel (Open Arms, 2001) is narrated with such lambent detail and compassion that it succeeds in casting a spell. A car crash kick-starts the story, mashing together middle-aged, divorced insurance worker Clara Purdy and the Clampett-esque Gage family: parents Clayton and Lorraine, their three children and grumpy grandmother. No one is hurt, but a hospital checkup reveals Lorraine has advanced cancer, and when Clayton disappears, Clara is left holding the babies and the grandmother. For her, however, this is a wonderful opportunity to render her previously empty life worthwhile, caring for the homeless family while supporting Lorraine. Help is also on hand from Lorraine’s wandering brother, the larger community of neighbors, friends and relatives and the local priest Paul, whose shrewish wife has just left him. Clara, a remarkable fount of previously untapped generosity, begins to assume the children are hers. But a successful stem cell transfer restores Lorraine’s health, Clayton returns and the children are ripped from her care. Depressed and angry, she breaks off her relationship with Paul, but in a story devoted to ideas of loss and restoration, a happier conclusion can be expected.
A limpid, witty, humane talent to watch.