Unger’s latest offers a triumvirate of strong women pitted against a shared past and dangerous future.
Birdie Heart loves Heart Island more than anything else, and that includes her family. She’s tied to the island in a way that is nearly visceral; so much so that she fought her siblings to the point of estrangement to gain ownership of it when her parents died. Now, she and her husband, Joe Burke, host an annual gathering of family on the small island that is barely touched by modern conveniences. Only this year, no one really wants to go other than her grandchildren, the son and daughter of Birdie’s daughter, Kate. With her brother, Theo, bowing out, dutiful daughter Kate proceeds with plans to take the kids to the island, but last-minute complications end up with her leaving her son and husband behind and taking only daughter Chelsea and her friend, Lulu. Independent of their preparations, Emily, a waitress at the Blue Hen, waits tables and returns home to worthless boyfriend, Dean, a druggie and thief who struggles to control Emily and work as little as possible. After causing a rift between Emily and her mother, Martha, Dean and a very dangerous associate of his hatch plans to rob the Blue Hen and take Emily along for the ride. Emily, seemingly incapable of telling Dean “no,” goes along with his plans and the two are caught up in a terrible sequence of events that lead them on a collision course with Birdie and the girls. Unger is a master at building characters that crackle with personality and purpose, and the women in this novel are no exception. Birdie, unhappy with everything in her life, is particularly well-drawn, but the character of Emily remains a puzzle. Unger undoubtedly meant for Emily to come across as sympathetic. Everyone who encounters her feels inexplicably sorry for her, but in the long run, she’s an unlikable young woman who makes terrible life-altering choices.
Unger knows how to write a taut thriller, but one improbable character keeps this book from being extraordinary.