THE LANGUAGE OF LIGHT by Meg Waite Clayton


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First-timer Clayton takes a decorous stroll down memory lane.

Young widow Nelly Grace moves with her two sons to Maryland horse country, into an idyllic domain of old money and even older pretensions that the author sets forth, rather naively, as indisputable evidence of impeccable breeding. Here, we are informed, invitations are engraved, wives go by their husbands’ names, and ties are de rigueur at those antediluvian gatherings known as cocktail parties. Since times have changed, occasionally ties are not worn by the younger men (meaning under fifty) if the hostess specifies so on the engraved invitation. The hunt and its attendant festivities are all-important. The reader, whom one assumes has plunked down $25 that—oh, dear—he or she has actually earned, must perforce be allowed a peek into this hermetic world of rich people who “work their lips” before cracking a smile. And so we breathe the fragrance of saddle leather and upscale horse manure and open the barn door to myriad minor mysteries: Why did Nelly’s father, a famous photojournalist, tell her to burn some of his most moving images? Is that old snapshot tucked among them really Emma Crofton, redoubtable matriarch of the horses-and-hounds set, as a young woman? Is it possible that Emma and Daddy—no, of course not. Mother never mentioned it. Nor did Grandmother, during innumerable dinners featuring vegetables in cream sauce and cheese rolls and similar haute WASP cuisine. Perhaps Emma’s son, the dark and dashing Dac, knows more. He’s smitten with Nelly . . . but his Vietnam experiences still shadow his days. Should she believe the rumors of his involvement with Mai, a Vietnamese woman? Did Emma Crofton put a stop to that relationship decades ago, and will she stand in the way of Nelly’s happiness now? But the Big Question for Nelly, who has taken up photography once more, is more profound: Are all her images actually self-portraits, “trying to picture who I was, who I would become?”

A horsy soaper.

Pub Date: Dec. 15th, 2003
ISBN: 0-312-31801-4
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2003


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