A widow seeks to reconnect with her estranged, adopted son by confronting the past in this debut novel about family and regeneration.
Middle-aged Kathleen Hunter has had some difficulty adjusting to life after the death of her husband, a little over a year ago. Then, one day, her grandmother, Lucille McGill, decides to come to live with her, because, as she says, “We’re just two widows, Kathleen, and we need to care for each other. I need you as much as you need me. At least, I think you need me.” This kind of no-nonsense joyfulness is characteristic of Lucille, known as “Nan,” who almost immediately develops a flirtation with one of Kathleen’s neighbors—the gentlemanly, wizened Tinker France Browne, a retired ship captain. This isn’t merely a happy tale about golden-year self-discovery, however; readers soon learn that Kathleen’s adopted son, Adam, distanced himself from her four years ago upon learning, at 18, that he was adopted—and that Kathleen did nothing to help his drug-addled biological mother, Lydia Crenshaw. When Kathleen visits an ailing neighbor, Lydia’s brother Justus, in the hospital, he tells her a disturbing secret that throws her into a state of anxiety and regret but, ultimately, motivates her to right her wrongs; after years of denial and guilt, she decides to reach out to Lydia. Then, in the narrative’s most compelling moment, Schrage shifts the point of view to narrate from Lydia’s perspective. Overall, the characters are sympathetic and intriguing, and the plot developments range in tone from dark and disturbing to quaint and charming. However, the author struggles to tie all the elements together in a rewarding way. Readers spend so little time with many of the characters that their losses and triumphs have little emotional effect; Adam, for instance, is present so little that readers may not care about whether he returns to Kathleen. A final flash-forward scene eschews character development in favor of a direct jump to a happy ending, and many readers may wonder how they got there and why.
A novel with all the elements of a fine story that doesn’t allow itself the time and space to tell it.