A seemingly perfect family deliberately hides unpalatable truths that come to light only decades later.
As usual in her characteristic fast-paced prose, Berg (Say When, 2003, etc.) explores a timely subject—here, an abusive mother whose actions went long-undetected—as she introduces 50-ish narrator and professional quilter Laura Bartone. Laura has two siblings, Steve and Caroline, and is planning, with husband Pete and their two children, to join them and their elderly parents for the annual family reunion. Just before the Bartones set off, Laura is phoned by Caroline, who asks that the three of them get together without their spouses to discuss issues that are bothering her. As a child, Laura was a bossy and sometimes cruel tease, often hurting Caroline, who was sensitive and subject to dark moods and fits of weeping. Caroline also, Laura recalls, was constantly trying to please their beautiful but emotionally cold mother. The siblings meet as planned, and Caroline announces that she’s depressed, is seeing a therapist, and is about to divorce husband Bill. She suspects the depression is caused by events in her childhood, and she asks Steve and Laura whether they can remember anything about their mother’s treatment of her as a child, particularly anything abusive. Laura and Steve are shocked, thinking that Caroline must be mistaken or overreacting. But then Laura and Steve begin remembering incidents from their own childhood, and Laura learns that Caroline was hospitalized one summer when she and Steve were away at camp, after her mother had attacked Caroline with a knife. Their mother was also abused by her mother and lost a much loved baby before Caroline was born. As the three siblings try to cope with these revelations, their father suddenly dies, but not before he alludes to secrets long kept hidden.
A less-well-developed plot than usual, but, as always, readable.