McKinnon’s debut adult novel explores the meaning of family and belonging through the eyes of Iris Standish, a middle-aged woman who returns to her childhood home while dealing with a life crisis.
Iris has come to prepare for her sister Leah’s wedding at the bucolic lakeside estate. But her homecoming is tense, as she faces her own feelings of inadequacy as daughter, sister, wife, and mother. In each role, she fears she has failed catastrophically. However, she begins to rebuild a sense of identity with the help of her best friend and an old crush who seems eager to kindle something new. Through it all, Iris' childhood surroundings summon nostalgia, much self-reflection, and, finally, a revelation. The Standish family is spectacularly noncommunicative, but as secrets begin to leak out, the story shifts from Iris’ inner struggles to more present dangers. Leah has problems of her own that are revealed in a maddeningly slow trickle. They culminate at a point designed for maximum drama and in a way that forces all these secrets to the surface. At its best, McKinnon’s prose is sharp and evocative, such as when Iris absorbs the beauty of the New Hampshire countryside and the ephemeral joys of a lakeside summer. Iris’ age plays well here, since the reader gets both her memories and her current perspective. When the focus shifts to people, though, the dialogue loses its special voice, slipping into the familiar sound of a prime-time drama. McKinnon does avoid falsely tidy endings; the story feels extremely realistic yet still satisfying in its loose conclusion.
Making use of a gorgeous setting and serious themes, this novel rises above a flock of fluffier beach reads.