Six characters in search of themselves complicate this probing, densely plotted debut when a museum’s new acquisition provides a means of self-discovery for all—while a ghostly twist is added to the mix.
Tuesday Bailey and his cousin Mary witness with mixed emotions the helicopter removal of a silo, the core of a round barn, from its Vermont hillside to a nearby folk museum. Tuesday, chief of buildings and grounds at the museum, is pleased that it goes smoothly and that he’s able to spend time with Mary, for whom he’s carried a torch since they were teenagers growing up together; Mary, meanwhile, a dowser happily married to the owner of the town’s general store, is disturbed without knowing why—but then learns she has inoperable cancer, which is spreading fast. Meanwhile, the museum’s p.r. director, Didi, her partner away for the summer at an artists’ colony, finds herself attracted to a local reporter (male) covering the barn story. She also has as a houseguest her 18-year-old nephew David, a proto-architect and maker of unique birdhouses, who’s gay and also fascinated by the barn—especially after he finds brooding, brilliant Dean Allen, the museum’s most mysterious employee, lurking there. Then there’s the museum’s newest board member, wealthy art-collector and widow Frieda, in Vermont for the summer with her difficult daughter, who starts a fling with the museum’s patrician director. Tuesday yearns to be with Mary, Mary is dying to hear “the voice of God in her bones,” Didi dithers with the reporter, David laps up the knowledge that Dean spews forth, Dean has an unhealthy fixation with fire, and Frieda ultimately decides to return to New York. As for the ghost—well, his tale is tangled too.
Mary and Tuesday are to the novel what the silo is to the barn, but with so many divergent lines of plot, the reader has to struggle to give them the attention they deserve.