Griffin’s second novel (Life Without Summer, 2009) grapples weakly with the woes of the sandwich generation.
Laura, a pediatric nurse, has her hands full with her marginally ADD son Henry, ten, and her irrepressible five-year-old daughter Claire. She’s engrossed in preparations for her mother Helen’s birthday party when the elderly Helen suffers a stroke at her oceanside retreat, Sea Escape. At the hospital, Laura debates whether to summon her brother Holden. A supercilious lawyer several years Laura’s senior, Holden is estranged from both sister and mother despite the fact that on his rare visits, Helen fawns over him. Letters discovered at Sea Escape reveal Helen’s life-defining romance with her husband, Joseph, Korean war vet turned globe-trotting war correspondent. Chapters detailing Helen’s struggle to make a life at Sea Escape alternate with Laura’s present narration. Since Laura is too busy negotiating the treacherous shoals of elder care—her penny-pinching husband Christian and his well-meaning but scattered sister Luce are just compounding the crisis—she hasn’t had time to read her parents’ entire correspondence, which spans from the ’50s to the mid-’70s. If she had, she would have learned (as Helen’s segments reveal early on) that Holden’s alienation stems largely from the fact that he is not Helen and Joseph’s son but the adopted illegitimate son of Helen’s best friend, who committed suicide. The reason for the gap in the siblings’ ages is Helen’s three pregnancies, resulting from Joseph’s sporadic furloughs at home, that ended in stillbirth or miscarriage. When Joseph is killed during the 1975 evacuation of Saigon, Helen sinks into a walking stupor that lasts a quarter-century. Helen’s passive acceptance of her suffering proves even more grating when a virtually unforeshadowed bombshell is dropped on the hapless reader. Griffin sets up promising conflicts—Holden is withholding key family secrets from Laura, Helen’s rehab center is trying to force her into nursing-home hell, to name only two—then resolves them by fiat.
Dramatic potential sadly underdeveloped.