A blue-blood American family endures trials and tribulations from the 1950s through the present day.
The WASPy Chadwicks are “like American royalty,” a vast extended clan with money and roots dating back to before the Revolution. When Allen’s (The Hanging Man, 2018, etc.) ambitious and expansive novel opens, it’s 1954, and the family has gathered for its annual Thanksgiving celebration at the Old Home. Aging patriarch Pop suddenly dies, which sets the stage for a new generation of Chadwicks to come to the fore, including stockbroker Ted; his loving wife, Jane; and a confusing passel of kids, grandchildren, cousins, and in-laws. This multigenerational family saga offers a snapshot of American life through the decades as the Chadwicks deal with unplanned pregnancies, an interracial romance, economic crises, and more. Mores may shift and political winds change, but the Chadwicks prove resilient, as their strong commitment to family keeps them together. Unfortunately, that might not be enough to hold readers’ interest. There’s the germ of a compelling story here, but the book lacks tension and is overstuffed with characters and competing plot points. Potentially dramatic twists—a suspected suicide, the specter of AIDS—are swiftly introduced and even more quickly resolved. Several chapters open with a rote recitation of significant world events at the time. While this device attempts to situate the story in a larger historical context, these incidents are largely divorced from the everyday lives of the various Chadwicks. Intriguing characters abound, like a sexually repressed Army colonel and an ambitious young woman who marries the son of a Mexican cabinet secretary, although they beg to be explored in more depth. But Allen has wisely chosen his setting, with most scenes occurring at the quaint family compound near Plattsburgh, New York, to which the family returns again and again over the years. Without this home base, “a huge weathered clapboard house” on the shore of Lake Champlain, the Chadwicks would likely have splintered long ago. But by maintaining a physical link to a shared past, they are also able to stay connected to one another, “happy to be who they were, and where they were.”
A sprawling and somewhat unfocused tale of life, love, and family.