In Edwards’ debut novel, 62-year-old Marion von Muellerstahl relocates from Chicago to Berger, Mo., after the death of her husband to reconnect with family she hasn’t seen in nearly half a century.
The story begins as solitary Marion painstakingly remodels an old farmhouse with family history. Overly explanatory sentences shape the narrative as Marion reaches out to connect with long-lost friends and family. Exhaustive dialogue—usually over countless glasses of wine and tirelessly described dinners with new friends—affords the introspective heroine an opportunity to get out of her head as she settles into retirement. In spite of the many years that have passed since she was last in town, nearly every person Marion encounters welcomes her in with a warm, exceedingly polite and instant affection. These characters are so close to Marion that they read her mind, answering her unvoiced questions as soon as they arise. New friends and family share their personal lives, religious beliefs and thoughts on retirement and racism with an unbelievable affability. The most colorful character is Marion’s less-than-amiable adoptive cat, Snicklefritz, who expresses distaste for the slimy Dirk Dieckmann with a bite of his leg. This rambling story of congenial reunions is not completely without tension: There’s crime and mystery in Berger, after all. Most secrets are revealed in friendly conversations, and danger is brushed under the rug with tedious reassurances. Action scenes are diluted since they are indirectly related to readers. Long passages filled with emotion and apology can be tedious to read, but there’s a reward for those who stick with the narrative: The complicated weave of family ties starts to make sense. Secret identities and long-buried family scandals are uncovered and, like the rest of the story, easily absorbed. The final two chapters elevate the novel as Marion is finally thrust into real-time action. Perhaps the author presumes that readers, like Marion, need time and reassurance before confronting big emotions.
Best suited for readers who enjoy getting to know people through long, pleasant, one-sided exchanges over food and wine.