An unexpected letter leads a beautiful documentarian to Turkey, where she reunites with her long-lost grandmother.
In a departure from her usual serialized family sagas, Bradford attempts a stand-alone examination of one troubled family, with uneven results. Her willowy blonde protagonist, Justine, is at Indian Ridge, her family’s Connecticut vacation manse, when she opens an envelope, with no return address, only an Istanbul postmark, addressed to her mother Deborah (who’s in China on business). The letter urges Deborah to end her estrangement from her mother, Gabriele, before Gabriele, nearing 80, dies. Justine is shocked! Ten years before, Deborah, whose venal, narcissistic personality traits are exemplified by her non-willowy figure and brunette hair color, had told Justine and her twin brother Richard that Gabriele was killed in a plane crash. Saying nothing to Deborah, Justine and Richard decide to track down Gabriele. In Istanbul, Justine stumbles on Gabriele and her grandmother’s childhood friend Anita (the letter-writer), living in side-by-side villas. Both appear to be in the peak of health and are running a thriving interior design business. (As always, Bradford’s descriptions of furnishings, fabrics and amenities are far more rigorous than her exploration of characters’ psyches and motivations.) Readers are given to understand that Deborah is entirely at fault for the estrangement—until we learn about its provocation. Not only did Gabriele conceal her controlling interest in Deborah’s husband’s firm, but Gabriele cut off newly widowed Deborah’s income, and put Indian Ridge in trust for the grandchildren, disinheriting Deborah. Nevertheless, Gabriele insists she is the innocent victim of a greedy daughter. Halfway through the novel, the emphasis shifts abruptly from the rift to Gabriele’s suppressed World War II trauma, which she has nonetheless detailed in a journal that Justine reads. The journal, depicting actual jeopardy, is the novel’s most compelling segment, but it, too, fails to justify Gabriele’s actions.
Bradford’s efforts to assign the moral high ground are doomed to fail, since she can’t seem to penetrate her characters’ hypocrisy.