Following three generations of women, Polli’s debut traces an intricate web of family secrets as they are created, buried, and discovered.
It’s 1950, and Emily lives with her mentally unstable, alcoholic mother, Anna, and her Polish grandmother, Marishka. Emily’s father died when she was a baby, and she misses him desperately. After exploring Emily’s life, the novel flashes back in time to 1920, when newly arrived Polish immigrant Marishka was the young wife of a Polish coal miner in rural Pennsylvania. As she worries about her husband’s dangerous job and cares for her two daughters, Paulina and Anna, Marishka’s worst fears are realized when her husband is killed in the mines just before their third daughter, Eva, is born. The novel then returns to Emily before focusing on an older Paulina; the narrative alternates between them as Emily grows up wondering why her family is the way it is and Paulina realizes she has fallen in love with Anna’s husband just as baby Emily is born. Polli neatly dovetails the timelines, focusing on the parallel lives and pulling readers deeper into each woman’s life. Strand by strand, she reveals just a little more about each character, delicately intertwining the various threads of their existences in a way that subtly shows the complex emotional ties that exist between family members. The story grows honestly and organically, to borrow a phrase of Emily’s, and her emotional exploration feels cathartic without becoming cliché. When Marishka dies and Emily finally discovers the existence of her aunt Paulina—and the reasons why the family decided to disown Paulina and Emily’s own father—she reaches a turning point and decides to finally figure out who she wants to be and what her family means to her now that all the secrets have unfurled.
A quiet yet powerful saga of imperfection and the struggle for family connection.