Dieker’s debut novel charts the twists and turns of a family’s life at the dawn of the digital age.
Nothing much happens in this episodic first installment of a two-book series, yet its characters are never still. As the story opens in 1989, Meredith is 7 years old and the eldest of three girls in the Gruber family. It’s their mother Rosemary’s 35th birthday, and they’re packing to move from Portland, Oregon, to Kirkland, Missouri, a small town with a population of just 2,053 people. There, paterfamilias Jack has a new job teaching music at the college. Many events in the novel depict everyday rituals that are sure to resonate with readers; the Grubers run errands, practice the piano, eat dinner, invent games, and watch television. The girls attend school, make friends, and gently test their mother’s controlling tendencies. Rosemary finds work in a bank, where she thrives, and Jack is appointed chairman of his department. Later, Meredith edges ever closer to a writing career, vowing, as she begins college, “I am going to work as hard as I can to make art.” At times, this overlong, meandering book can be frustrating: where are the dramatic confrontations, and why is everyone so polite? But Dieker excels at depicting how real people think and act. When she writes from a child’s perspective, she successfully portrays the state of knowing but not quite understanding. She’s also astute about communities: “She had already begun to realize that living in a small town meant being known for things.” Readers will empathize when Meredith tells her diary, “The whole thing about being in high school is that everyone is after you to not make any mistakes that might ruin everything.” The youngster’s artistic dreams manifest in lovely ways; for example, she pores over descriptions on videotape slipcases, such as Pretty Woman’s, “to see the kinds of stories adults made for each other.” Purring along in the background are global changes sure to reconfigure the characters’ lives in the second volume—most crucially, the arrival of the World Wide Web.
A story that’s studded with emotional insights despite its lack of narrative drive.