Short story writer Perlman debuts his first novel, a beautifully written, complex intergenerational drama that examines the ways family relationships shift when trust is broken.
Helen, Georgia, a small, upscale mountain town, is the setting for a Christmas/New Year’s gathering of the daughters (Sammy, Rachel, and Lottie), sons-in-law, and grandchildren of Julianne “Jules” Talmadge Beasley Lipscomb, family matriarch. Jules has been married to Harvey Lipscomb for 10 years, and he has taken her family as his own. But Harvey, a professor of gender and sexuality, has entered the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and he has been carrying a secret about his past that he knows he must share with Julianne before he can no longer remember it. His is not the only, nor the worst, secret that will rock the family. Perlman’s roots as an author of short stories are reflected in the structure of his novel. Divided into six chapters, the story of Jules and her family is told from different perspectives. In the third chapter, Perlman switches the voice from narrator to first person, temporarily handing the story over to Cliff, Sammy’s husband. Then, in the last third of the novel, as readers are settled in for the duration of the family reunion, Perlman jumps 15 or 16 years ahead to examine the consequences of secrets not yet revealed in the earlier sections. It’s a literary gamble, wrenching readers out of the warm, albeit fractious, comfort of the Lipscomb home and dumping them squarely in the debris left behind by an unanticipated treachery. Still, Perlman’s character portrayals are so visceral and poignant, we are willing to be dislocated in order to catch up with the events of the intervening years and see what has become of everyone. By the end of the narrative, readers have information that has not yet been shared with the surviving characters, information that will further tear asunder what remains of the family structure. Does Perlman intend a future novel to catch us up once again? One can only hope.
Heartbreaking, occasionally humorous, and powerful, with an ending not really satisfying but certainly lingering.