A middle-aged woman tries to make a fresh start when her marriage ends and in the process discovers long-hidden family secrets that eerily echo her own experience.
When Catherine Hubbard’s second marriage founders and her Aunt Rue leaves her the family home in Vermont, she decides to take a sabbatical from teaching and head back East. Her three children, Jeff, Fiona, and married, pregnant Karen, are all grown up, and, drawn by happy recollections of living with her grandparents, she returns to claim her legacy. The house, she finds, has been tastefully redecorated by the former tenant, retired academic widower Samuel Eliasson, who still lives in the village. As she settles in, she finds her grandmother’s diaries in a trunk in the attic, begins reading them, and soon has the sense that her life is recapitulating her grandmother’s. Georgia Rice, the eldest of three, had taken charge when her mother died early. At 19 she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and the family doctor John Holbrooke sent her to a nearby sanitarium to rest. Cut off from the outside world by infection and looming death, Georgia had fallen in love with fellow-patient Seward. Their affair would affect the marriage Georgia made after she was cured to the much older John Holbrooke. Catherine also recalls her own mother’s suicide, the happy years she spent living with her grandparents, and the two husbands who left her for other women. Tempted to live in a world that seems as self-contained as the sanitarium, Catherine starts dating Samuel Eliasson. But real life, with its mixture of compromise and unexpected satisfactions, intrudes, and Catherine, like Georgia, must return to a more intractable home when her daughter goes into early labor.
Vintage Miller (While I Was Gone, 1998, etc.): a quiet, subtle story of longing, loss, and the compensations that, surprisingly, satisfy and endure.