An art historian tries to make sense of her family’s secrets while caring for an ailing parent in Turner’s debut novella set in the late 1990s.
Katie has one goal in mind when she returns home to upstate New York: secure care—in-home or otherwise—for her 82-year-old father. In the two years since his wife died, retired attorney Edward Broadbent has been “shrinking” away, rapidly losing weight and his vision as he battles a congestive heart condition and macular degeneration. Katie initially plans a quick visit, but nagging issues from the past and a desire to finally connect lead to an extended stay. There “are some things I need to know before my father dies,” Katie tells her husband, Henry, who remains in Los Angeles with their two children. Over the course of her visit, she attempts to coax more information from her father about his Iowa upbringing (“I look at Dad, thinking for the umpteenth time how little I know of his boyhood. Born in Fort Dodge, a small city I’ve never been to”). And she tries to discuss her mother’s debilitating mental illness—a topic seldom examined, or even acknowledged, in their previous talks. As the roles of parent and child begin to blur, Katie must answer some tough questions while struggling to determine what her father really needs in his final years. Using events from the family’s past and present, Turner explores the complexity of familial bonds in this highly relatable work of literary fiction. Early in this satisfying book, she notes: “Someone, Proust I think, said that we only truly see someone we love after an absence, and then only if we see them first before they see us.” Turner’s protagonist experiences similar clarity. When Edward greets his daughter at the airport, the once-powerful lawyer uses a cane and wears a smile of “frozen amicability”—a conversational countermeasure he’s adopted now that his poor eyesight prevents him from reading facial cues. The shift in power frightens Katie and removes both characters from their established roles. Yet as both gain footing in this new reality, there are also moments of unexpected joy.
Sincere and captivating, a revelatory look at
the freeing properties of forgiveness and acceptance.