After 10 years away, a 26-year-old woman returns home to confront her past and rediscover her family in Kozak’s (Root Causes, 2013) novel.
While in a coffee shop, Leah Larsen does an online search for her parents—as she’s done every so often since running away from home at 16—and discovers that her mother has died. Using what little money she has left, Leah travels to Taos, New Mexico, returning to the family ranch and the prestigious resort that her late grandfather designed, the Lighthouse. There, she finds her beloved aunt and uncle; her father, who greets her with expected “condemnation and contempt”; and Niels, the son whom she’d abandoned after her teenage pregnancy. Another figure, who’s unfamiliar to Leah, is Theo Wilde, her older cousin who tends to the stables. He’s a bit of a black sheep, as she is—a handsome artist who leaves the care of his own young son mostly to his uncle. He immediately feels connected to Leah, the cousin he barely knew, and encourages her to stay. When Theo’s brother Ben also feels compelled to come home to help get the resort’s struggling finances in order, the entire family is together for the first time in a decade. Leah finds herself on a path to uncover deep truths about her own past and her family’s complicated history, all while experiencing motherhood and a surprising new romance. Throughout this novel, Kozak pays particular attention to setting, surrounding her characters with gorgeous mountain scenery and a ranch that’s layered with memories of departed family members; Leah can feel her grandfather’s presence, for instance, “rippling” beneath the walls. The family’s extensive wealth and privilege lowers the stakes, at times—there’s an embezzlement subplot, but there’s little worry that they’ll run out of money—and the book’s unexpected romantic connection may raise eyebrows. But Kozak has crafted warm, inviting, and thoughtful characters here; there’s family bickering, of course, but they mostly speak to one another with fierce intelligence and admirable honesty. Even in dark moments, it’s a pleasure to spend time with them.
A peculiar but engrossing family drama, elevated by truly rich characters.