Ghosts of the Spanish settlers and lingering effects of the Manhattan Project pleasantly spook the atmosphere in a New Mexican family drama.
The landscape is purple and tan, the humidity low, the manors adobe, but the family dynamics are as realistically complex and, well, cozy as one of those nice Aga sagas that the Brits ship over by the ton. Morrow (Giovanni’s Gift, 1997, etc.) sets the ghost of Dona Francisca de Pena, free-spirited 18th-century descendent of the Conquistadors, floating (but not meddling) around the family acres in greater Santa Fe, where, gradually fading, she observes the lives of her own offspring, the Montoyas, and is herself occasionally sighted. The Montoyas are mostly unpretentious ranchers, horse people whose common sense is badly needed by the Anglos who wander into their pastures. Most of the needy non-grandees have connections to the Ur-techies who came in the ’40s to test the limits of atomic theory. Kip Calder and Brice McCarthy had physicist fathers and shared a Los Alamos boyhood and friendship that soured in the ’60s when Kip skipped out on his pregnant girlfriend, who wound up marrying Brice. Kip went to Southeast Asia and became a spook; Brice went to law school and became a liberal cliché. Now Kip, dying from cancer, has returned, and Ariel Rankin, his abandoned daughter, herself pregnant from a broken affair, has at last responded to feelers Kip put out at a reunion with Brice three years earlier. Kip, nursed from near-death at Sarah Montoya’s nursing home, has become part of the family, but when Ariel reaches New Mexico and picks up her father’s trail, he has disappeared on a last adventure with plucky widower Delfino Montoya to reclaim the ranch the feds snatched for their proving ground. Subplots abound, including an actress trapped in a character she created, until everything knits up as tidy as Twelfth Night.
High-toned escape with palatable preaching and beautiful scenery.