This multigenerational story of a privileged family’s vacations on Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay is as much about the place as the people.
In 1942, wheelchair-bound insurance executive Mr. Porter (shades of FDR), his stoic wife, three daughters—beloved oldest son Charlie is off training to be a pilot—and gardening expert mother, along with assorted staff, are one of the few families summering at Ashaunt Point, where an Army base has been temporarily set up nearby. Graver (Awake, 2004, etc.) introduces the family members, particularly the bright, slightly rebellious 16-year-old Helen, in sharp, nuanced sketches while focusing on Bea, the family’s Scottish nursemaid, who is devoted to youngest daughter, Jane. After the first true romance of her life, 34-year-old Bea turns down a soldier’s marriage proposal in order to remain with the Porters. By 1947, Helen takes the story’s center stage. Studying abroad, newly in love with ideas and a man, she writes reflective but girlishly innocent letters home. By the ’60s, when Hurricane Donna hits Ashaunt, all three sisters have married. While Jane seems conventionally happy and middle sister Dossy suffers from bouts of clinical depression, Helen is still trying to find her way. Pregnant with her fourth child while enrolled in graduate school, she feels torn between love of family and growing intellectual ambitions. A decade later, Helen’s troubled oldest son, Charlie, named after the uncle who was killed in World War II and always Helen’s favorite, moves into a cabin on the peninsula, which he finds threatened by encroaching development. Helen and Charlie’s difficult but enduring mother-son relationship is particularly moving, but every character is given his/her emotional due. As one generation passes to the next, Ashaunt Point remains the gently wild refuge where the Porters can most be themselves.
A lovely family portrait: elegiac yet contemporary, formal yet intimate.