In a deceptively quiet but affecting debut, a young mother is suddenly widowed, and, overwhelmed by guilt and fear, learns to live life to the full on an old Vermont farm.
Though fundamentally a story of self-discovery, this one is unlike so many in its genre in that the demons the protagonist overcomes are mostly spiritual ones, products of a religious upbringing. Charlotte MacGuffey has been raised by her two older sisters, Kitty and Rosey, who stepped in to help their father with ten-year old Charlotte after their mother died. They’d been raised as Christian Scientists, and Kitty, who in adult life becomes a Christian Science practitioner, is particularly zealous about maintaining the family’s adherence. In early December 1952, Charlotte, married to Melvin and the mother of Baird and three-year old Hoskins, tells Melvin, just before he sets off on a business trip, that she wants a separation. Lying awake nights, she’s decided there are too many irreconcilable differences between them. But a few days later, when Melvin, a photographer, is killed crossing a street in Vermont, Charlotte not only feels responsible, but all the old fears and uncertainties fostered by the family’s beliefs that illness and unhappiness are caused by weakness of faith, return. Over the summer, spent on the family farm in Vermont, however, Charlotte begins to change. She falls in love and has an affair with neighboring artist Francis; learns that her mother had diabetes and would have lived if the family had taken her to a doctor; and gets Hoskins, a beautiful child who’s obsessed with order and not yet talking, evaluated by a doctor, who suggests he is autistic. Sister Kitty is appalled at Charlotte’s actions, and her defiance of all Mrs. Eddy’s teachings, but Charlotte, who also learns some comforting news about Melvin’s death, is ready to embrace life, the senses, and the future with courage and hope.
A finely wrought tale of the sometimes-harmful bonds of family and faith.