A finely wrought psychological study of motherhood and inherited trauma.
Blythe stands outside, watching a perfect family as they move through the small joys of their Christmas Eve preparations. She has come to deliver her written story, one that occasionally includes flashbacks to her mother's and grandmother's lives, so that she may explain to this family—her former husband, his second wife, their child, and, most of all, Blythe’s own daughter—what went wrong. The book that unfolds is this novel, and while it begins with a college meet-cute between Blythe and Fox, it truly begins with the story of Etta, who “tried very hard to be the woman she was expected to be” but battled depression that eventually led to suicide, and her daughter, Cecilia, who left altogether when Blythe was 11. Interweaving memories of her life with Fox and their daughter, Violet, with the memories and voices of these two women is meant to establish a pattern: Because she comes from a line of struggling mothers, Blythe herself could only expect to struggle as a mother, and struggle she does. Violet is a difficult baby who becomes a troubled child, but Fox sees little evidence of her problems and blames Blythe for not loving her enough. When they have a son who dies in infancy, in a terrible accident, their marriage falls apart. Blythe continues to worry for, and even fear, Violet, and then her loneliness drives her to befriend Fox’s new wife. Her delivery of the pages of her story on that frosty Christmas Eve is meant as both repentance and warning; she fears that Gemma and Fox’s son could be in danger from Violet.
A novel written for and about mothers but not for the faint of heart; it offers no easy answers.