Four women discover that their conflicts can bring them closer together in this novel about family, love, and self-esteem.
The Aaldenbergs are strict believers in tradition. Their lives revolve around the family hardware store—a centerpiece of their small hometown, where livelihoods are driven by tourist seasons, loans, and the generosity of neighbors. The family is thrown into disarray, however, when their patriarch dies from cancer. Gwen, the eldest sister at 22, is desperate to leave for Boston, but feels held back by an obligation to bring the family out of financial straits. Betta, 20, dreams of owning the store and leaving her own mark on the town but feels overshadowed by Gwen. Teenage Esmerelda gets involved in high school vendettas and steals things from the family store as she tries to find herself. And Wanda, the matriarch, falls into a deep depression after discovering that her spending habits have put the family in debt. Meanwhile, separate infidelity scandals involving Gwen and Betta threaten to tear the family apart. With the riveting intrigue and melodrama of a soap opera, Mercer (Dark & Stormy, 2017) infuses rich psychoanalytical insight into each gesture and conversation: “Esmerelda loved how his smiles worked in fractions. She liked measuring them, what made them pass a quarter to a half, and what kind of seriously fabulous business pushed him to three-fourths.” But Mercer’s tendency to explicitly and repeatedly state each character’s central flaws and insecurities renders them predictable. This is especially the case with the underdeveloped love interests and antagonists, as relationships seem unable to survive on unconditional love and acceptance. Despite these histrionics (and occasional typos), Mercer’s prose is lucid and her themes of redemption and reinvention are resonant: “ ‘People come and people go.’ And after they go…all you’re left with is you,” thinks Betta at one point. Overall, this novel is more than just a wild drama about romance and family; it’s about learning how to deal with loss, choose what matters most, and be happy with who you are.
An often engaging mix of soap-operatic melodrama and rom-com gratification.