A family’s dysfunctional history is revealed as a grandmother keeps a close eye on her nursing home and a granddaughter prepares for a marriage she is unsure about.
This debut novel blends the stories of Gertrude Littlefield, 94 years old and resident of a Lynn, Massachusetts, nursing home, and her granddaughter Leigh Fortune. Gertrude keeps a close eye on the other residents of her nursing home—and particularly on the growing flirtation between two of the staff members—while a series of flashbacks tells the story of her marriage to Clive and their separation before the birth of their daughter, Beverly. Leigh, Beverly’s daughter, is an accountant engaged to Mark, a man she gradually realizes is not right for her. When she checks Gertrude’s mail, Leigh learns that Beverly, an alcoholic who abandoned her children with Gertrude decades earlier, has just died, and as the reader sees how things repeat themselves from one generation to the next, Leigh slowly makes sense of how her relationships with both Gertrude and Beverly (“My experience of my mother was that she never knew the date, never mind bothering to put it on a letter”) have left her immature and also self-sabotaging, not yet ready to be part of a stable marriage. By the time the characters gather for Gertrude’s funeral in the book’s final pages, Leigh has connected with Beverly’s friend Simon, who shares stories about a sober, grounded woman very different from the irresponsible alcoholic Leigh knew. Simon’s undemanding friendship and Beverly’s personal growth give Leigh space to develop her own maturity. The novel is both quiet, focused on domestic moments and small details, and melodramatic, full of infidelity (“From not cheating to cheating feels like the tiniest little step, practically unavoidable”), bad parenting, and strong emotions. Fraser has an excellent sense of place, and her Cape Cod and North Shore settings are alive with detail. While readers may feel that some plot points are too clearly foreshadowed, the book’s events on the whole come together to form a coherent, engaging story with a satisfying resolution.
A troubled woman makes peace with her family in this well-written and introspective novel.