A first novel about the fledgling branches of an Irish-American family tree.
Catharine McLaughlin isn’t your typical family saga matriarch—neither rich nor controlling, she does nevertheless possess the one indispensable mark of the grande dame: longevity. On the cusp of 80, Catharine is a widowed mother old enough to have seen many of her children’s children grow up—and now, with her granddaughter Gracie pregnant, to see another generation about to begin. Gracie is an unmarried advice columnist in her 20s who has just broken up with her boyfriend and has a love/hate relationship with her sister Lila, who used to share a house with her. Lila is a classic control freak, a brilliant medical student whose total lack of bedside manner may keep her from making it through residency. Lila, typically, thinks it’s selfish of Gracie to have the baby, though she’s secretly envious. She isn’t the only one: Gracie’s childless Aunt Angel offers to adopt the child, and Catharine herself feels a surge of hope when she learns that a new McLaughlin is one the way. Now in a nursing home, Catharine seems to have begun her final decline: She loses her driver’s license after a minor accident, then breaks her hip in a fall. She also sees and has conversations with dead relatives, but that isn’t a sign of dementia so much as a legacy from the wilds of Ireland, where both of her parents where born. Catharine has weathered enough of life’s hardships (stillborn twins, a dead daughter, a son still traumatized by Vietnam 30 years later) to take sorrow in stride, and her extended family rely upon her for much of their own stability. How will they manage without her? That’s a question only the next generation can answer.
A fresh and exceptionally strong family portrait, mercifully free of the sentimentality that could easily have turned the proceedings into a soap opera.