In this debut novel, a dangerous familial legacy threatens the summer peace of a Nova Scotian village where townies and rich visitors mingle and sometimes collide.
Blackburn Village, on the southern coast of Nova Scotia, has for generations been home to wealthy summer residents. The townspeople earn much-needed income as caretakers during the offseason and, during the warmer months, as babysitters, gardeners, cooks, launderers, and housekeepers. Though the rich folk seem to have it made, fissures exist. Bartlett Carlisle, patriarch of a large brood of nine, is a controlling narcissist—and worse. Last summer, Bart pulled out a hunk of his wife Daphne’s hair during an argument, of which she is chillingly reminded on her first day back in Blackburn: “she noticed a clump of her own blond hair, neatly tied in a pale blue ribbon and sitting in a clamshell ashtray.” As Blackburn residents enjoy summer fun and love affairs, Daphne learns a horrifying secret about Bart’s genetic makeup that will have dramatic consequences. In her debut, Ogilvie manages her large cast of characters well as she skillfully conveys the beauty and appeal of Blackburn while also drawing out its underlying tensions. However, the rich characters tend to sound like a parody of themselves: “Isn’t this glorious? Isn’t this simply glorious?”; “It’s such a divine day”; “that sounds absolutely frightful.” Harper, a young Blackburn resident, offers interest, yet she’s such a paragon that she seems a type, not a person. Ogilvie tries to create suspense, but the book’s sprawl and lack of focus—overly detailed descriptions of clothes, crockery, food, logistical arrangements, and such—drain it. Meanwhile, readers never learn the mystery of the blue-beribboned hair. More crucially, Bart’s genetic scheme that so appalls Daphne is barely different from using donor eggs and sperm, and the postulated mechanism of harm—a spontaneously generated virus that somehow becomes a genetically transmissible illness—is scientifically dubious to say the least.
Highly charged, melodramatic, and full of summer atmosphere, albeit overstuffed with detail.