Pritzker’s debut offering is a tongue-in-cheek novella in which family secrets are closely guarded behind upper-class pretensions.
This tale opens with the prestigious Harwood family scion, John James, presiding over the traditional Thanksgiving feast. Seated at the table with him are his two daughters, Tanya and Amy, his second wife, Sophia, his sister Victoria, her husband, Victor, and family matriarch Granny Clarissa. As barbs fly across the table, Uncle Victor is suddenly stricken, falling dead on the floor. It seems he has been poisoned. In the ensuing hours, a carefully varnished exterior of civility is torn away, and two decades of betrayal are revealed. Pritzker has plenty of fun with her skewering of the Harwoods, who made their fortune when Clarissa’s grandfather Augustus, a glass blower, found a way to manufacture superior glass eyes. With the burgeoning need for his product during and after two world wars, the family’s place at the top of their town’s social ladder was secured. As is appropriate for such an illustrious family, the real battles are about money, inheritance, and positions of power. Which of John James’ two children—Tanya, daughter of his beloved and tragically departed first wife, or Amy, daughter of his current wife—will be tapped to carry forward the Harwood legacy? What has Granny been up to? And, by the way, who in this den of vipers killed Victor? What’s puzzling in this satire about lineage, however, is that Pritzker is a bit careless in defining Granny’s back story in an otherwise well-constructed, if occasionally predictable, romp. Augustus Harwood was her grandfather, yet she was married to John Harwood Sr. How was the Harwood name passed down to her husband? There’s a reference to mysterious scandals involving Augustus—was there some unsavory Harwood-Harwood liaison somewhere along the line? This issue is unfortunately never addressed. It’s an irksome omission, especially since Granny is a pivotal character devoted to the preservation of the Harwood dynasty. Nevertheless, the skillful narration smoothly moves the story forward at a good clip, seamlessly interweaving present events with individual back stories.
A promising first outing for Pritzker, who maintains a steady stream of humor in this breezy diversion.