PEN/Hemingway Award winner Haigh’s third novel (Baker Towers, 2005, etc.) focuses on the now disconnected members of a once close-knit New England family.
The summer of 1976 is the last Paulette and Frank McKotch and their three children will spend together as a family at her parents’ Cape Cod cottage before the house is sold and Frank and Paulette are divorced. Cold but needy Paulette, who dropped out of Wellesley to marry, and warm but self-centered Frank, a scientist and professor at MIT, are sexually incompatible—he wants more and she wants less. Their already shaky marriage falls apart when their 13-year-old daughter Gwen is diagnosed with a chromosome deficiency that keeps her from developing physically in puberty; Frank wants to pursue medical solutions while Paulette wants to protect Gwen from pain. Cut ahead 20 years to the mid-’90s. Frank and Paulette have never remarried. Both are painfully lonely. Bill, their oldest son, has become a cardiologist in Manhattan. He is in a genuinely loving relationship with another man, but he keeps his sexuality a secret from his parents, and completely avoids Frank, who always favored him. Youngest son Scott, the family black sheep, has fallen into marriage with a woman whose coarseness is portrayed almost as a moral deficiency. At 30, teaching at a mediocre private school, he barely supports her and their two children. Although he lives in nearby Connecticut, he too rarely sees his parents or siblings. At 34, Gwen still has a child’s body. She lives a lonely life working in a museum. On a vacation in the Caribbean, Gwen falls in love with her guide. Paulette, a conventional snob and overly protective mother, sends Scott to find Gwen, setting in motion a chain of reactions that ultimately force each of the McKotches to reexamine their relationships with each other and with themselves.
After the lovely opening, filled with genuine insight and touching lyricism, Haigh overly orchestrates her characters’ lives.