Debut author Hendershot’s novel chronicles 30 years in the lives of a Midwestern family’s members.
In 1972, teenage Janey agonizes over having given up her baby for adoption. She held her infant son, whom she called James, for only a few minutes before he was taken away. At her therapist’s recommendation, she deals with her grief by writing letters to James, a practice she continues for over 20 years. In the letters, she tells stories of her own childhood and young adulthood. These missives are juxtaposed with the story of Janey’s life as a grown woman, focusing primarily on her beloved father’s battle with kidney disease, complicated by her sibling relationships. Although Janey is close with her sister Tara, her relationship with her other sister, “Pretty Perfect Peggy,” has always been fraught; the pain of Peggy’s accusation that she embarrassed the family is compounded by the fact that Peggy later names her own son James. It’s an affront that Janey can’t forgive or forget. This novel doesn’t aim to tell the story of a birth mother trying to find her child; rather, it’s about a woman whose life is defined by one major, heartbreaking event. The interspersion of the letters—generally very short vignettes—keeps the novel from becoming too depressing, as Janey’s father’s health deteriorates and she learns more about her son’s fate. Throughout, Hendershot skillfully and realistically examines the family’s dynamics and their accompanying underlying tensions. There are occasional inconsistencies, such as Janey’s surprising lack of curiosity when she does learn more about her son. However, despite all the story’s heartache, it concludes in a surprisingly upbeat manner, suggesting that Janey may at last find personal happiness. It provides a useful lesson that not only can people find life and love after the age of 40, but they can also continue to grow emotionally.
A sensitive, engrossing exploration of the complexities of family relationships.