The comforting and alienating effects of family closeness are portrayed with appealing warmth and wit in the third novel from the Massachusetts author (The Whole World Over, 2006, etc.).
It’s a tale of two sisters: city mouse Louisa Jardine, who shapes a career and an erratic love life out of her experience in New York City’s art world, and her younger sibling Clement, an ever-itinerant wildlife biologist committed only to “a wild and freewheeling life, a life of pick up and go.” In juxtaposed chapters narrated by both women, we’re privy to their mutually loving and dependent, and frequently combative, relationship over a 25-year period that begins when Louisa comes home to Vermont following the death of their nearly centenarian great-aunt Lucy, a free spirit whose intelligent independence has been a touchstone for both “Clem’s” adventurous peregrinations and Louisa’s vacillating movements toward and away from marriage and motherhood. Their mother May, a wealthy horsewoman and breeder of dogs who also manages her passive husband and influences her daughters more than they’ll admit, provides the fulcrum that keeps bringing the sisters together even when they appear to have become irreparably estranged. Glass shares Anne Tyler’s gift for comic plotting as a means to reveal character under stress, but a graver note is struck by her understanding of Louisa’s frustrating, enervating mood swings. The arc of the novel in fact isn’t comic, and its elegiac denouement and conclusion are immensely moving. There are arguably too many echoes of the patterns and emphases of Glass’s NBA-winning Three Junes, but this novel digs deeper—particularly in its rich characterization of the mercurial Clem. She’s as sentient and soulful as she is wayward and irritating, and we understand why men are drawn to her flame, then burn up in the intensity of her embracing orbit.
Not a great novel, but a good one, and a promising extension of Glass’s already impressive range.