A poignant coming-of-age story about the bonds of friendship, the heartache of first love and navigating the turbulent waters of marriage and family.
Francis “Fran” Hopkins Draper Jr. grew up in the affluent suburb of Chestnut Hill, Pa., with his older sister Heather, his French, socially conscious mother and kowtowing father. He’s quick to point out that his relatives are “Long Island-lock-jawed, garden variety WASPs, a family whose members were born on third base but thought they’d hit a triple.” Fran and his peers are products of private-school education and his parents view themselves as part of the “impoverished aristocracy.” Groome frames his novel as Fran’s midlife memoir—which Heather cajoles her barely 30-year-old sibling into writing—based on his remarkable life that includes dropping out of Dartmouth, two marriages, a decorated tour in the military, a failed baseball career, a successful business career and an ongoing estrangement from his parents. In particular, Fran recounts his experiences in the summer of 1955. Having just graduated from high school, he and his best friend Potter work a summer job in Quebec. Introduced to a beautiful young woman named Lisette, Fran is immediately smitten by this girl who’s nothing like the shallow debutantes back home. Unfortunately, the love affair is short-lived, as the boys soon return home—where Potter must deal with his girlfriend’s potential pregnancy. Although Potter dodges that bullet, Fran and Lisette aren’t so lucky. Despite their upbringing, Fran and Heather are open-minded and focus on an individual’s character rather than on which side of the tracks they were raised. Their mother finds social standing, breeding and appearances to be of the utmost importance, yet compared to their compatriots, the Drapers are struggling financially—and the hypocrisy isn’t lost on her children. The harder she tries to turn the charade into reality by forcing her children into upper-class roles, the more she alienates them. The author deftly renders a sad portrait of a family being pulled apart by an alcoholic mother in denial. Though the narrative’s beginning is a bit bumpy, Groome quickly finds his stride. Writing in accessible, straight-forward prose, Groome creates a touching fictional memoir to cleverly illustrate a life lesson—without endings, there would be no beginnings.
A heartfelt, captivating read, packed with familial politics and strife.