The turbulent story of the Felice family, spanning over a half century.
Maria, the family’s matriarch, lies in an Elysium Fields Hospice bed while one roommate after another dies and is replaced. Why won’t she die? To put it another way, why is she even in a hospice? Malae spins a yarn about a family in the process of forgetting about her well before she is dead and about the few people who still care about her. From chapter to chapter, the tale bounces back and forth from the 1950s through the first decade of this century, ultimately revealing a dark but unsurprising secret. Most readers, it would seem, hope that a novel gives them someone to root for. Don’t look for much of that here—Maria is sympathetic but necessarily passive, and the bulimic Murron is OK if you don’t expect too much from her, although she alone in the story does her best. But Maria’s five children are certainly nothing to cheer about. In daughter Mary Anna’s eyes, the worst thing about the Vietnam War was that her brother Johnny survived it. No doubt, Malae tells a strong if depressing story, painting scenes in vivid and sometimes microscopic detail. But he is prolix and a tad pretentious, often meandering through the characters’ thoughts using convoluted sentences before finally making his point. At the same time, the book probes many of the weaknesses (and few of the strengths) of family dynamics. It is easy to imagine damaged families like the Felices, and America doubtless has thousands of families whose problems are at least as bad. Maybe that is a redeeming feature of this book: that it speaks to the weaknesses—our frail blood—that so many of us share.
While not uplifting, this is a thoughtful work that will appeal to readers who enjoy literary fiction.