A Manhattan ornithologist strives to heal the rift that has divided what is left of her family.
Clare and her older sister Anne were always close, having grown up in a Chelsea brownstone with parents who kept secrets from each other and their daughters. But when Anne married a famous Danish glass blower, Frederik, he insisted she distance her own family. After a long silence, Clare goes to Anne’s isolated country home, where she’s welcomed by Anne and her children, Grit and Gilly. Bruises on Anne reveal abuse, confirmed by young Gilly, but when Frederik thwarts their escape and tries to strangle Anne, Clare hits him with a burning log from the fireplace. After Anne testifies against her, Clare goes to prison for two years. Almost 20 years later, Clare has rebuilt her life around her work as a birder and nature blogger, studying New York City’s avian population. Her boyfriend, Paul, an Urban Park Ranger, is still in her life, but since she broke up with him (for his own good, she thought) while in prison, their relationship has remained tentative. When Grit shows up at Clare’s apartment (in that very same childhood brownstone), Clare learns that Anne, who moved to Copenhagen with Frederik, has thoroughly identified with her captor. She has tolerated Frederik’s physical and emotional abuse, not just of herself but of her son and daughter. Gilly commits a tragic act as a result, and Grit is disowned by her parents. Frederik is such an odious character that it is difficult to see how he managed to ensnare Anne in the first place—let alone keep her in his thrall. When Grit is hurt while filming in a bog, Clare leaves a message for Anne. A scent of violets and other clues indicate Anne may have heard the call.
A new rendering of Rice’s familiar themes of sisterhood and inherited dysfunction, which suffers from slapdash characterization but profits from a sure-handed depiction of the wilds of New York.