When a western Pennsylvania family reunites for a funeral, old hurts and angers rise to the surface in Roberts’ (Seven Thin Dimes, 2016, etc.) novel.
It has been more than a decade since Elise Delcroix visited her hometown of McDonald, deep in Pennsylvania coal country. She’s built a successful life of her own in New York City, resolutely leaving behind her old identity as the child of Emil Delcroix, a second-generation Belgian immigrant who’d been forced to marry Elise’s mother, Noelle. Although Elise’s paternal grandfather, Jules, adores her, she’s always been her own father’s least favorite, behind Emil’s other daughter, Nova, the product of a teenage romance with an African-American woman named Rose; and Andre, his son with his Vietnamese wife, Leanne. Now, as the family comes together to mourn Emil’s death, Elise must come to terms with her troubled relationship with him as well as her own long-buried secrets. In a compact, absorbing narrative that flows seamlessly between past and present, Roberts manages to convey the epic scope of a multigenerational family that’s torn by old resentments and conflicting loyalties. Roberts tells the story from the points of view of three memorable and very different women: Elise, successful and assured but always an outsider; Nova, generous and loyal in spite of Jules’ bigoted rejection of her; and Eugenie, Emil’s mother, who met Jules when they were both refugees from Nazi aggression. As the novel unfolds, the author skillfully weaves French Belgian and western Pennsylvanian cultures into her examination of intricate, intergenerational family dynamics. Although Nova seems too good to be true at times and the important character of Andre is vastly underdeveloped, Elise’s complex psychology is completely believable and ably carries the book to its realistic, ambiguous ending.
A family saga that effectively explores the irrevocable legacy of the past and the enduring hope of redemption.