On a lighthouse off the northern California coast, a young woman discovers her husband’s true nature—and her own—in Schwarz’s latest thoughtful exploration of family ties (So Long at the Fair, 2008, etc.).
Trudy is no longer sure she wants the conventional future her parents have mapped out for her in Milwaukee circa 1897. What’s the point of the education she’s receiving at the Milwaukee College for Females if all she’s going to do with it is make a perfect bourgeois home for Ernst, the family friend earmarked as her husband since childhood? When his cousin Oskar comes to visit, Trudy finds that this intellectual, iconoclastic dropout expresses her own restlessness and impatience. The next thing she knows, she’s married and en route with Oskar to a post as assistant lighthouse keeper that he expects will give him time for his electrical experiments. Their only company at the isolated lighthouse is the head keeper, Mr. Crawley, his wife and four children, and Mrs. Crawley’s brother Archie. These bluff, terse folks are not the sort Trudy is used to, though she does become fond of the children after she’s enlisted to give them lessons, especially youngest daughter Jane. But Trudy soon realizes that Oskar’s ambitions are unfocused and aimless, plus he proves to be arrogant and selfish as well. When his attention is drawn to a mysterious native woman the Crawleys call Helen, who lives in a nearby cave, Oskar sees her as his ticket to an academic career and ruthlessly plans to carry off Helen to a university. The fatal climax makes good use of the lighthouse’s rugged natural setting, which is well-described throughout, as is Trudy’s gradual maturation from a rebellious girl fooled by fancy words to a resourceful woman who thinks independently and can see value in people unlike herself.
Strong characters and plotting—including a nifty final twist involving Jane—maintain the interest in a rather slowly paced narrative.