When Claire abandons her colorless marriage to Bob and flees to Ireland, she slowly unravels the truth concerning the awkwardness between herself, her father, late mother and her exuberant sister, Noelle.
Juska’s latest book on relationships (The Hazards of Sleeping Alone, 2004, etc.) follows Claire's association with four people: her deceased mother, Deirdre, a woman whose illness, exacerbated by alcohol and prescription drugs, dominated her household and set the tone for Claire's childhood; Gene, the quiet, steady father with whom Claire shares the burden of her mother's illness; Noelle, Claire's much-younger sister and her mother's undeniable favorite; and Bob, the clueless college sweetheart who becomes Claire's husband. Known as the “smart one” in the family and impassioned by her fascination with words, Claire marries Bob, an entomologist, and moves to New Hampshire, where he takes a position at a university. Lost among the faculty wives and feeling hemmed in by both her mild husband and the harsh winters, Claire puts her doctoral dissertation in linguistics on the shelf with unrealized plans to complete it, and instead starts a career writing crossword puzzles. One evening while cleaning her kitchen, Claire realizes she's not living the life she envisioned when she married and bolts to Ireland, where her sister, Noelle, and her soon-to-be-husband, a barkeep, live with his widowed mother and younger brothers and sisters. There, Noelle and Claire embark on expeditions to see the sights, but what they really examine is their unique relationship with their parents and one another. Juska neatly ties Claire's linguistic roots into the story, but the novel itself comes off less like a journey of self-realization and more like one long unpleasant whine, as Claire—an unsympathetic and ultimately uninteresting character—puzzles through her feelings.
A disappointing, self-absorbed deconstruction of parent-daughter, husband-wife and sister-sister relationships.