An intriguing tale about the union of an unlikely mother and son.
Recknagel, the daughter of a late Louisiana oil tycoon, grew up to enjoy the comfortable, unfettered life of a trust-fund baby who had no more skeletons in her closets than most of the big-money folk she knew. In fact, as far as she was aware, Recknagel had only one—her mentally ill brother Jimmy, who was rejected by her father and hushed up as a family embarrassment. The wound of this childhood trauma had pretty much healed when Recknagel received a surprise visit from her 16-year-old nephew Jamie, Jimmy’s only child, who showed up her door one evening and asked leave to stay. Jimmy also exhibited symptoms of insanity, and his sudden appearance forced the author to confront some painful childhood recollections and to look at her troubled family in a new light. Her initial instinct was to turn Jamie away, but when she learned that he had been abused by both of his parents she decided to fight for custody of him instead. Recknagel is no Mother Teresa: her lubricious descriptions of the luxurious life she enjoyed before Jamie’s intrusion—her lovers, travels, and academic pursuits—are reminiscent of Danielle Steel, and her highly idealized view of the moral superiority of her own (hippy) generation grows tedious in short order. She also has a knack for melodrama: “Without my father, the family seemed to spin like an unpredictable tropical storm.” Still, her childhood flashbacks, which illuminate her complicated relationship with Jimmy and her parents, are rich with psychological insight, and readers who plow through the fluff will be pleased with the account of Recknagel’s transformation, induced by her new responsibilities as Jamie’s guardian.
Although sections of the narrative read like a beach-book paperback, the luminous and hopeful ending—just barely—makes up for it all.