In Hill’s debut, members of a troubled family converge to celebrate a milestone, with unexpected results.
Rheumatologist Abe Green loves sailing, but his wife, Cassandra, a sculptor, does not. When the couple and their daughter Elizabeth, newly accepted to Harvard, go sailing one day in San Francisco Bay, Abe reveals during an argument that he knows about Cassandra’s affair with a gallery owner, then leaps from the boat and swims away. Eight years later and divorced, Cassandra and her siblings, Howie and Mary, gather at their parents’ home in Maryland to celebrate their father’s 80th birthday; Elizabeth, in her final year of medical school, joins them and brings her boyfriend, Kyle, to meet her grandparents. Howard and Eunice Fabricant live above the family-owned funeral home and have raised their three children over the rooms where corpses await final preparations. On the eve of the big party, tragedy strikes, and instead of birthday festivities, the family prepares for a funeral for one of their own. As Cassandra deals with her grief, she recalls moments that have defined her life: both her fascination with dead bodies and her feelings of repulsion; her rejection of her mother’s desire that she one day assume the reins of the family business; the initial heady feelings of love for her former husband and their increasing alienation—emotions both Abe and Cassandra explore through a haze of marijuana when he shows up for the funeral. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s pain causes her to push Kyle away and question their relationship. Although the author’s early prose is a bit florid, as the story progresses the writing becomes more subdued and more suited to the multifaceted study. Hill has produced an unusual retrospective of a family torn apart by divorce and infidelity and so keenly affected by the immediate events in their lives that they are only barely aware of what’s transpiring around them, namely Hurricane Katrina’s ravaging of the Gulf Coast.
A bleak and disturbing story but one that offers a glimmer of hope.