Leary (The Good House, 2013, etc.) writes about nutty, pedigreed New Englanders in this noirish comedy in which financial wrangling and emotional secrets are kept under wraps within a well-born Connecticut family until the arrival of an interloper from west of the Rockies.
Single, childless 29-year-old narrator Charlotte is a typical Leary character—likable but slightly bent. Charlotte makes a good living writing a fake mommy blog and swears she doesn’t have agoraphobia although she hasn’t left her home during the day since shortly after her beloved stepfather Whit’s death three years ago. Charlotte’s home is “Lakeside Cottage,” where she and her older sister, Sally, grew up with Whit and their mother, Joan. Wealthy, eccentric Whit had two great passions: Joan and the banjo. He and Joan didn't believe in talking about, let alone spending, money. Although his two sons from his first marriage, Perry and Spin, have inherited the once-grand, now increasingly dilapidated family house, Whit requested that Joan be allowed to live there until her death. Enter Spin’s new girlfriend, soon to be fiancee, Laurel, from Idaho. Laurel’s resume—Olympic-level skier, MFA from USC, huge advance for her first novel, a relative of Ernest Hemingway—is as intimidating as her aggressively friendly manner. While Charlotte warms to Laurel’s questionable charm, Sally, who has moved home after losing her job as a violinist in Manhattan, remains suspicious. But Sally, who has a history of sneakiness, sexual misbehavior, and mental illness, may not be the best judge of character. And Charlotte may not be, either; she's fascinated by Laurel’s knowledge of what she calls "life hacks"—actually scams, like ways to use a fancy hotel's amenities without staying there—which are supposedly research for her novel. Leary is by turns affectionate and vicious toward her characters. So, is Laurel trustworthy? Was Whit? And what about Charlotte’s off-and-on lover, Everett, who lives rent free on the property as a kind of caretaker and is not above flirting with an attractive woman like Laurel?
In this deeply satisfying novel about how unknowable people can be, intrigue builds with glass shards of dark humor toward an ending that is far from comic.