The life of Harriet Wolf, beloved (though reclusive) author of a series of fanciful novels, is clouded in mystery, and the rumored existence of the manuscript for a final volume provides grist for the mills of academics, fans, and family members alike.
Baggott has written an often whimsical account of long-term damages set in motion by good intentions. Told in four unique, alternating voices—that of Harriet, her daughter, Eleanor, and her two granddaughters, Ruth and Tilton—Baggott’s (Burn, 2014) gradual revelation of the meandering course of the enigmatic author’s life is part fairy tale, part psychological autopsy. Overcoming an early and erroneous banishment to the Maryland School for Feeble Minded Children, Harriet’s tenacity in creating a charmed and charming life for herself, on paper if not in the flesh, is recounted in a series of episodes that span the 20th century. Her descendants’ stories range from the bleak to the bizarre, but all take place on the stage Harriet created, and it's her legacy of secrecy and fierce familial loyalty that curses and blesses them all. What’s hidden in Harriet’s saga is as important as what’s visible, and Baggott’s tale is sprinkled with promises, secrets, pacts, and more than one case of agoraphobia. When a medical crisis reunites Eleanor, Ruth, and Tilton, the weight of Harriet’s prescience is felt while it falls to her family to puzzle out how to continue to live and love in a real world that is not as enchanting as that of her novels.
Moments of heartbreak balance moments of hilarity in Baggott’s ambitious portrait of a family created from equal parts secrecy and love.