A mother and her daughters reunite to dredge up old traumas in this tension-wracked drama.
Frances Rafferty has her normally cantankerous 84-year-old spirits lifted when her favorite daughter, Kathy, an off-Broadway actress with a rich second husband, decides to come home from New York to visit the family home in Brown County, Indiana. Also attending are Frances’ daughter Edie, a doormat housewife, and her dyspeptic husband, Sam, who actually inhabit the family home, having exiled Frances to a mother-in-law trailer in the backyard; and third daughter Rosie, a psychologist who is bitterly estranged from Frances and is bringing her disabled son in tow. The narrative unfolds over a three-day weekend of dinners, Scrabble games, church, and squabbles, told through ruminative soliloquies by each of the women probing her present feelings and past resentments from times when the family almost disintegrated in madness and poverty. Each woman’s soul and secrets are laid bare: Kathy, a domineering diva who puts up a front of ebullient cheer while denying the reality that her life’s stability is about to collapse; Edie, perpetually striving to please everyone around her and guilt-stricken when she can’t, who harbors a hidden passion for an old flame; Rosie, seething with bitterness toward Frances over a childhood wound her sisters know nothing about. Thomas (Blessed Transgression, 2015, etc.) creates vibrant, sharply etched characters who come with plenty of rancorous baggage but manage to unpack enough of it to regain sympathy for one another and themselves. They come alive through the author’s gift for crafting distinctive voices in well-observed dialogue, emerging through their own reflections and the refracted perspectives of their loved ones. Thomas writes in a relaxed, understated prose that conveys the heavy emotional impact of family conflicts without histrionics and melodrama. (Frances in a rare moment of contentment: “I woke up all of a sudden. And the sweetest feelin’ come over me. Like an angel of the Lord done passed through the room. And I couldn’t help but call out in the darkness, ‘God is good.’ Yup, that’s all I could think to say. God is good.”) Readers should root for Frances and her daughters as they fitfully knit their family ties back together.
A cleareyed but warm family saga of buried recriminations and the struggle for reconciliation.