A new bride who moves to St. Simons, a Georgia barrier island, finds that she has deeper ties to her home than she ever suspected.
Ava, the only daughter of a funeral director, shocks her family, especially her mother, Gloria, with her whirlwind marriage to Matthew Frazier, whom she met at a medical conference (she’s a midwife, he’s a pediatric psychologist) only months before. Gloria can’t bring herself to speak to her daughter, much to the chagrin of Ava’s 90-plus grandmother Mimi. The marriage is especially baffling to Gloria because Ava, with her lifelong water phobia and persistent nightmares of drowning, will be living in the seaside house which has been in the Frazier family for centuries. Once she’s carried over the threshold, the mysteries of the old, though immaculately renovated, house, and the island it’s on, crowd in on Ava. Among them: Why didn’t Matthew ever mention his first wife, Adrienne, an artist? What did John, Adrienne’s brother, mean when he says his family thinks Matthew killed Adrienne, when her death (by drowning after her car went over a bridge) was clearly an accident? Why does Matthew keep hiding Adrienne’s papers and memorabilia from Ava? As Tish, a family friend, encourages Ava to do historical research about the Fraziers, Ava begins to suspect that her visceral attraction to Matthew may only be explainable as a carry-over from a former life. But whose? Occasional interspersed chapters, set in the early 1800s, provide a clue, as Matthew’s ancestor Geoffrey and his wife Pamela (a midwife herself) deal with sterility, resentful siblings and infidelity. Further perplexing puzzles: How did Ava sustain fractures before the age of two? Why did her family, who once lived on St. Simons, move inland? Who originally owned a music box blown in by a tornado and an ancient wedding band inscribed “Forever?”
Although the narrative can be painfully slow, White skillfully juggles the deceptions that nurture the novel's enigmas, until the surprising truth emerges.