Turbulence roils three relationships in a family as its members gather for a Midwestern wedding.
Families spawn secrets, and the Gruens of Ryville, Michigan, are no exception. There’s headstrong Will Gruen, full-time commercial airline pilot and part-time farmer, queasy about his upcoming mandatory retirement; he’ll switch to a Chinese airline (no age restrictions), but he hasn’t told his wife Carol yet, nor has she, a brittle control freak, told Will how advanced her own plans are for a farmhouse-style bed-and-breakfast. Their passive younger daughter Leanne is flying in for her wedding with fiancé Kit, but she hasn’t told him about her drinking problem. In the worst shape, and hiding the biggest secret, is older daughter Margaret, a hitherto-confident perfectionist now assailed by self-doubt. She’s driving from Illinois with her small son Trevor. Along with her husband, David, she teaches at Northwestern, and her plan is to pretend that David’s absence is due to work, though in fact their “open marriage” is crumbling (before leaving, Margaret called the cops, fearing physical abuse). That’s the set-up, and constantly shifting viewpoints among parents and daughters, together with numerous flashbacks, make for considerable diffuseness. Strand’s focus can be eccentric, too. There’s too much about Will’s brief experience as a fighter-pilot in Vietnam, and a long flashback about Margaret’s unkind treatment of an ex-boyfriend takes up space that could better have gone to David, and to Margaret’s Indian lover, Vasant. A tentativeness surrounds the core problems. Is Leanne an actual alcoholic? She’s not sure. Is David capable of violence? And does Margaret truly believe his compulsive womanizing is just a “glitch”? Only in the last 40 pages does the tension start to crackle. Cops arrive to check out David’s allegation that Margaret has kidnapped their son; Leanne rediscovers whiskey; and Carol and Will (his secret out) stare bleakly into their future.
That closing section suggests real potential in an otherwise unremarkable first novel.