The prolific author (What Remains, 2000, etc.) traces a hidden legacy through three generations.
In 2003, Joanne, David, and Claire learn that their mother, Alice, has died and left them valuable GE stock they knew nothing about. For Joanne, a struggling single mother on Cape Cod, her $500,000 share is a lifesaver. Claire, married to a successful businessman in Ann Arbor, is more concerned with what she perceives as her mother’s preference for David. And David, who has always avoided commitment, doesn’t know how to respond to his mother’s stated hope that he will live in the family home in Saratoga. Flash back to Saratoga in 1916, when Alice’s mother, Elizabeth, attends a dinner hosted by her parents for Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone, who, along with Henry Ford, call themselves “The Vagabonds” and take traveling vacations together. Elizabeth is seduced and gotten pregnant by Firestone’s valet. To make restitution, The Vagabonds set up a trust fund in GE stock for Elizabeth’s heir. Two years later, Elizabeth’s baby dies of influenza. She marries, bears Alice, then succumbs young to cancer. Raised by her father, Alice marries a charming womanizer who dies with a mistress in a car wreck. Back in the present, Claire, Joanne, and David, who know little of this history, bicker about the house and divide their mother’s ashes. Claire goes home to discover her husband is leaving her for another man, though he then has a fatal heart attack—on the road. In her grief, Claire reaches out to the others. Joanna uses her new wealth to kick out her loser boyfriend, renovate her house, and buy a new car. David, as if there were any suspense about it, decides to move into the Saratoga house where the legacy began.
Too busy a story makes for a tepid read: Delbanco’s latest skims the surface without grabbing hold.