In this novel set in 2012, a harrowing health scare for a family matriarch spurs emotional crises for her Fortune 500 company CEO daughter and musically talented granddaughter.
Muriel Bennett, a grandmother with a quick wit and a steadfast dedication to her own independence, has lived for decades in her cherished Pacific Northwest lakeside home. One day, her best friend, Catherine, discovers her barely conscious on her kitchen floor. While recovering in the hospital from what’s revealed to be a collapsed lung, Muriel’s condition prompts her successful, no-nonsense daughter Susanne to make the drastic, controversial decision to move Muriel to an assisted living facility. Before that move materializes, Susanne’s cello-playing daughter, Lilia—who’s hurt that she wasn’t called about Muriel’s health turn—intervenes with an alternate plan to keep Muriel at home, near the friends she dearly loves. As tensions come to a head, Muriel’s good friend Benjamin is involved in a fatal accident, which makes the book’s tempo falter. Eventually, the Bennett women’s disagreements uncover old pains surrounding Susanne’s brother’s death in the Vietnam War and a dark secret that’s long weighed on Lilia. In this novel, Carr (The Foundation, 2014, etc.) paints a portrait of three family generations that’s often pleasantly paced. However, it’s sometimes overly reliant on summary, and some plot developments strain believability, such as when Susanne’s Vietnamese translator and guide winds up showing her the very site where her brother was killed. The dialogue tends to favor easy aphorism over specificity (“You get one shot at life, Lilia,” says Muriel. “Please carve out one that brings you joy”), giving the novel the cadence of a well-worn fable, instead of a story about a particular family. Midway through the novel, however, Carr introduces a plotline that offers supporting dramatic tension, involving Lilia’s attraction to Benjamin’s handsome, computer-whiz grandson, Matthew, and their will-they-or-won’t-they dance.
Despite its sometimes too-neat storyline, readers may find merit in this novel’s exploration of the challenges of aging loved ones.