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ANCESTRAL TRUTHS by Sara Maitland

ANCESTRAL TRUTHS

By Sara Maitland

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 1994
ISBN: 0-8050-2536-7
Publisher: Henry Holt

 Mysteries sacred and profane--daughter Clare may have murdered her husband--are provocatively plumbed as the high-minded Kerslakes gather for their holiday in Scotland. Here, Maitland's usual feminist concerns (Virgin Territory, 1986, etc.) are secondary to questions of religious faith and how to live life to the fullest--suitable questions for a novel that, despite its progressive sympathies, is reminiscent of another era. It's an era when upper-class families gather on ancestral ground to confide, confess, and resolve family crises with minimal ill- feeling and melodrama. Clare Kerslake, an adopted member of this civilized world--her beautiful mother had been James Kerslake's sister--is haunted by the childhood memory of seeing her parents laughing together before they died in an explosion. Now 30-ish, she is recovering from an accident in which, while climbing a dangerous mountain in Zimbabwe, she lost her memory and her right hand. She may also have killed husband David there--at least that's what she told her African rescuers. While the family try to help Clare remember--all she recalls is wanting David dead--they also address the problems of son Ben, an Anglican priest recently defrocked because he's gay, and daughter Felicity, who cannot accept her child's deafness. Expeditions are arranged to prod Clare's memory, but it is only when youngest sister Ceci, a nun, asserts that God is all that is beautiful and dangerous that Clare begins to understand herself and a little of what happened. She'd renounced a lesbian lover out of fear; she'd been afraid of David, of climbing. Now she can go back to Zimbabwe, confront the mountain, and always ``dance near the edge of destruction, willing to fall because it was beautiful.'' Intelligent if earnest writing as Maitland fearlessly tackles the great mysteries: an often old-fashioned novel that is also an affecting story of love in its infinite variety.