What to do when you’re facing the same birthday that prompted your mother to kill herself is the grim premise for this surprisingly upbeat tale of a ruinously dysfunctional family, the third from Hyde (after Monoosook Valley, 1989).
Isabel faces her 41st birthday in Boulder, Colorado, having just tried a separation from her husband Gabe after long, frustrating years of trying to have a child. Back together, they prepare for an unusual celebration as her older sister Ellie and their father are flying in to offer solace through a painful weekend. No amount of preparation can keep Isabel from remembering, however, as images of her mother—the misfit, the manic-depressive, the larger-than-life presence, and the pathological liar—come crowding into her consciousness. Her mother danced with abandon in the rain; she planted an entire steep hillside, the front yard of their Seattle home, with daffodils; she put out cigarettes on her arm; she tried to commit suicide more than once, finally succeeding as her family made plans for her birthday dinner. The remembrances are overwhelming, but Isabel’s weekend has its share of truly traumatic moments as well, as Ellie loses her young daughter briefly at a street fair, long enough for the girl to have an accident that sends them to the emergency room, and whispers to Isabel that she’s getting a divorce. Plus, Gabe finds out that the expensive fertility-drug treatment Isabel had the year before was secretly financed by her sister. The divorce becomes something more, though, when Ellie’s husband calls and reveals that she is more like her mother than anyone had previously suspected. All of which puts a strain on Isabel as well as her long-suffering father, but somehow, by weekend’s close, there’s still plenty of love left to go around.
A gutsy feel-good story, flecked with pain and panache.