Juska explores the collective experiences, traditions and loyalties of a close-knit family and the perspectives of individual members as they journey through a span of 30 years.
Like many other middle-class Philadelphia Irish-Catholic clans, the Blessings are tight. They celebrate every holiday in time-honored fashion (men in front of the television or tending the grill; women preparing side dishes and cleaning up), rally together during crises and proudly acknowledge important milestones. It’s not surprising, then, that when oldest brother John succumbs to cancer shortly after his father’s fatal heart attack, his illness and death become the definitive reference points in the Blessings’ lives. Widow Lauren, the mother of two young children, is an only child and relied on John to help her feel comfortable among the Blessings. She faces the death of her husband as many widows do—by withdrawing from others—but as time passes, she helps another family member and becomes an integral part of the clan. Her sister-in-law Kate is married to the youngest Blessing, Patrick, and blames his grief over his brother’s death for her initial failure to conceive; later, Patrick evaluates the direction his life has taken. John’s sisters cope privately with problems as their children grow older and the family continues to commemorate John’s life on the anniversary of his death. Ann and her husband, Dave, become increasingly alienated and finally divorce; their eldest daughter pursues life and love in NYC, their academically gifted son does the unexpected, and their youngest daughter battles an eating disorder. Sister Margie has tried to stifle anxiety over a confession her husband made years ago, but now her eldest son is in trouble, and although she knows taking certain actions will only cause her more pain, she insists that her husband unbury the past and help him. Juska’s story is like leafing through an old family photo album, where typically unremarkable moments are captured in black and white. What makes the album unique isn’t its contents but the way each photo abuts or overlays the next.
The author (One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, 2007, etc.) has created an ordinary fictitious family and stitched together a multilayered, sympathetic account of its members' lives.