Ex-pat Kennedy’s stateside calling card is a ponderous tale of doomed love set in McCarthy-era Manhattan.
The story begins with Kate, a middle-aged ad woman and divorced single mom whose own mother has just died. At the funeral Kate notices a striking older woman, and begins to get urgent phone calls from a mysterious Sara Smythe. When she agrees to meet Sara she has no idea that this distinguished woman of letters has been following Kate’s entire childhood since her father, Jack Malone, died when Kate was a toddler. The scene shifts to Sara’s POV, beginning in the post–World War II years. Sara and her homosexual brother Eric have fled Hartford, Conn., and their stodgy WASP parents for Gotham, bent on artistic careers. After publishing a well-received short story, Sara nets a prime columnist spot on a weekly magazine. Eric flirts briefly with the Communist party, but after failing as a working-class dramatist, he becomes a lavishly paid writer on a primetime NBC variety show. Sara is almost over her one-night stand with Army sergeant Jack Malone—after they declared undying love, he abruptly cut off communication. When she runs into him in Central Park, the romance rekindles. Eric, however, makes no secret of his disgust for “Brooklyn mick” Jack. When Eric refuses to give up his former Party associates to HUAC, he’s fired, blacklisted and shortly thereafter drinks himself to death. Devastated, Sara is still grateful for Jack’s support until she learns that Jack, himself in fear of losing his PR job, ratted Eric out to the FBI. Back in the present, Kate learns that she has received an unexpected gift, not the least of which is an important lesson in forgiveness. Although an anodyne ending makes for a disappointing anticlimax, this weighty tome is as readable as the '50s bestsellers it channels.
The prolific Kennedy (Leaving the World, 2010, etc.), known mainly in the U.K. and France, deserves a wider readership in his native United States.