A dying matriarch calls her children home to Maryland so she may confess her sins.
Multifaceted Mewshaw (Island Tempest, 2004, etc.) diverges from his usual crime-tinged stories for a full-on dysfunctional family drama that aspires to be a Greek tragedy but is in fact an exasperatingly malformed novel. The book’s rotating narrators orbit around their dreadful mother, who has forever scarred them. The worst of the lot is preening, self-absorbed Quinn, who has fled the country to adopt a pretentious façade as a popular British character actor. He’s happy to send money home but reluctant to respond to Mom’s summons and risk losing an upcoming role in a BBC adaptation of the Oresteia, Aeschylus’ trilogy about the cycle of violence within the House of Atreus. The family martyr is Candy, the dutiful daughter who stayed behind to take care of her dying mother at the cost of her own happiness. “People insisted I was strong too because I stuck by Mom,” Candy says. “But I knew better. I knew I stayed with her out of weakness.” The most tragic figure is poetic, sensitive Maury, afflicted by Asperger syndrome, who is also revealed to have spent 12 years in a maximum-security prison for murdering his father with a butcher knife. Now living in California, Maury reluctantly returns home to reunite with his siblings at their mother’s deathbed. While Mewshaw demonstrates his usual skill at voicing unusual characters, his cast is so vile and unpleasant, particularly the chain-smoking, hateful (and never-named) Mom who drives the plot, that it’s hard to sympathize with any of them.
The players are the weakest link in this bleak drama about bad blood, myths and the acrimony caused by truth.