A multigenerational first novel told with remarkable compression and precision.
Devoutly Catholic Yvette defies her family to marry Teddy shortly before he ships out as a WWII pilot. Although the Santerres’ early happiness in California sours due to Teddy’s inevitable jealousy—though always true to him, Yvette radiates sexuality—they do have two daughters. When adolescent Margot is seduced by a dance teacher, Yvette packs her off to relatives in France, tells Teddy she herself is the pregnant one, then decamps to a convent to cover her lie until the baby is born. Margot, who never acknowledges Jamie as her son, is later unable to bear the children she and her kindly if sketchily drawn husband desperately want. Meanwhile, Margot’s rebellious younger sister Clarissa dotes on Jamie, whom she assumes is her baby brother, but then she runs away with a ’60s-style idealistic, self-centered law student. Yvette’s warning that he’ll make Clarissa unhappy proves true, and when he puts his blossoming political career ahead of family, Clarissa divorces him. By now, Jamie, a troubled youth, has left Yvette and Teddy’s home after a major blow-up. He moves in with Clarissa and helps raise her daughter Abby (who adores her uncle—really her cousin), until she leaves for college. A couple of years later, at a family reunion, Abby and Jamie have sex (while Clarissa begins a lesbian relationship). Abby gets pregnant and soon after is diagnosed with cancer. Although Clarissa and Jamie have both lapsed from their Catholic faith, Abby demands to be baptized. She dies soon after she gives birth, and Jamie, officially only the godfather, raises the child. The secrets the Santerres keep in failed attempts to protect each other gradually unravel even as some of them find private happiness. Finally, Yvette’s murder draws the family together.
Prizewinning storywriter Meloy (Half in Love, 2002) pushes every melodramatic hot button with disarming understatement.