An unusual and compelling debut: a vast, ambitious intergenerational family saga that takes place in a brief time frame (three days) and a remote setting.
That would be Seven Island, off Maine's rugged coast, and for nearly two centuries (the novel takes place in 1964, mid–Cold War) the playground for two wealthy families, the Hillsingers and the Quicks, who are deeply entwined yet insist on—revel in—their separateness, living in the island's two grand houses and "mingl[ing] when necessary or appropriate, but rarely with any warmth." Connections have become even more strained and Byzantine in the current generation: Jim Hillsinger and Billy Quick married socialite sisters, so their children are cousins, and, after Billy's wife Hannah's death four years earlier, Lila Hillsinger temporarily took a more intimate role in the lives of her nieces and her brother-in-law. The immediate occasion is "the Migration," the annual summer departure of the sheep of Seven for a neighboring island and its vaunted clover, an event around which elaborate ceremonies have developed. The plot Nagy builds onto this is flabbergastingly complex and fascinating: Jim is a CIA officer recently cashiered because he was suspected of treason...a suspicion that emerged from his efforts to save his sister-in-law, briefly a communist fellow traveler, from public humiliation in the McCarthyite heyday. Meanwhile there's a gorgeous subplot that has to do with Hillsinger's decision (he's egged on by his aged father, one of several indelibly drawn minor characters) to banish his 12-year-old son, Catta, to wild, impassable Baffin Island for a 24-hour period—a brutal rite of passage that Lila has forbidden. The cast is huge, the plot sometimes diffuse, the transitions a bit whipsawing, and there's a small false note at the end...but mostly this novel is a surprising delight.
Nagy mixes narrative modes and tones (and generations) nimbly; it's rare to see suspense and literary lyricism woven together so well.