An intense story about two young girls growing up in St. Louis during an unsettled time.
Miggy (short for Margaret Ann) Brenneman is a temperamental, unruly 7-year-old, an only child who always seems to be courting danger. Her best friend—and complete opposite—is Ellen Gallagher, who attends Catholic school and is unfailingly polite and restrained. Ellen has a new baby brother, Louie. It’s 1973: Nixon is president, the Vietnam War is winding down, and the economy is in recession. St. Louis itself has seen better days. Miggy’s father, Julian, has inherited a failing hardware store, and he and his wife, Jean, a ballet teacher, both think they were meant for better things. Meantime, Ellen’s mother, Celeste, spends too much time sleeping, ostensibly because of postpartum depression. But there’s reason to believe her malaise runs deeper. Ellen’s stepfather, William, is a good man, somewhat baffled by his wife. The narrative unfolds slowly at first; then there’s a terrible accident, which swiftly upends everything. Author Silver is probing grief and guilt here as well as the mysteries of fate and character: On two separate occasions, Jean and Julian look at Miggy, “their demanding, often unappeasable child,” and ask, “Who are you?” Sentence by sentence, Silver’s writing is graceful and observant. Yet the novel doesn’t add up to much. The author portrays the accident as a turning point. Yet the grown-ups were struggling before the catastrophe, which only seems to push them further along the road they were already traveling. Miggy and Ellen are by far the freshest, liveliest characters, but the author keeps shifting focus away from them. Some parts of the novel seem truncated—Jean and Julian’s courtship, for example—while others feel too expansive.
Lovely writing but airless and unsatisfying in the end.