A bucolic if bittersweet summer-long family reunion takes place nine years after a similar reunion that marked Clark’s first novel in her trilogy about the Hills family of Towne, Mass (The Hills At Home, 2003).
Matriarchal Aunt Lily, 75, is running a thriving fruit and vegetable stand business. She has invited her niece Ginger, languishing with cancer, to stay in her comfy big house for the summer along with Ginger’s daughter Betsy and six-year-old granddaughter Sally. Sally quickly makes friends with Cam, daughter of Cambodian refugees who run a local Italian restaurant. Much of the novel follows the children’s play, which is remarkable for its 1950s-like innocence and its precocity. Ginger’s brother Alden (abandoned by his wife in A Way From Home, 2005) lives down the road. Shortly before July 4th, his three sons, two of them immensely successful techy entrepreneurs traveling in their own Winnebago, also arrive to spend the summer. So does his daughter Julie, who lives in England. She announces that she is engaged to a British geologist and wants to have the wedding at Lily’s house in early September. Preparations begin with much to-do although Julie’s vagueness about the absent groom leads to half-serious speculation among her brothers and their girlfriends that perhaps the wedding is a sham. Clark richly, albeit romantically, captures the minutia of small town life and the complicated dynamics of family. The Hills suffer minor—very minor—altercations and misunderstandings. They sell vegetables and have wonderful, leisurely meals. They read Trollope and C.S. Lewis. With help from Sally and Cam, Julie finds the perfect wedding dress. Real sorrow exists here—Ginger clearly is slipping toward death—and all the characters display prickles and pettiness at times, but good-heartedness and New England virtues prevail. In this idealized contemporary world, even the twentysomethings’ worst expletive is “flip.”
The Hills make amiable companions, but after awhile charm alone is not enough to sustain interest in a narrative of small moments lacking forward momentum.