A SEASON OF GOODWILL by Elizabeth Walter


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It's 1907 and most of the North family will be together for Christmas at their country estate of Amberley. George, oldest of the three North brothers and heir to the property, has lots of debts and is afraid the estate will have to be sold. His wife, Maud, is obsessed with a long-dead sister. Emily North, stylish, selfish wife of Harry, son number two who's on duty with the British Army in India, hopes that youngest brother Jimmy will show up so they can continue the affair they consummated in India. Madam, the shoe-leather tough matriarch of this quarrelsome clan, detests Emily, scorns timid Maud, and feels the lack of a daughter's companionship particularly acutely during the holiday season. In short, the stage is set for the requisite bout of family unhappiness. Then Jimmy shows up with a surprise--a fiancÉe, Poppy, whose clothes are shabby, but whose lively, straightforward manner convinces Madam that she at last has a worthwhile daughter-to-be. Then Emily's son Roddy reveals his mother's fling with Jimmy to the crowd; Poppy promptly breaks off the engagement. George's money schemes founder and he marches off to the hills to kill himself, but only succeeds in shooting his foot. Jimmy and Poppy make up, thanks to Madam's intervention, and Poppy's timely discovery of a valuable painting saves Amberley. Emily's reluctantly dispatched back to her loveless marriage and George and Maud make some sluggish progress towards a mature relationship. Walter (The Sin Eater, 1968; Dead Woman, and Other Haunting Experiences, 1977) has dished up a half-hearted reheating of the standard family-passion fare. Serviceable prose and tidy plotting contribute to palatability, but the appeal's that of two-day-old leftovers--comforting, certainly, but lacking in flavor.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 1986
Publisher: Scribners