Greenwood’s earlier novels of family dysfunction (Rust and Stardust, 2018, etc.) have hooked onto issues ranging from anorexia to child abduction; here Down syndrome disrupts a young woman’s life and marriage.
In 1963, 22-year-olds Ginny and Ab, drawn together by their oh-so-sensitive appreciation of poetry, fall in love despite class differences—he’s a student at Amherst College; she’s a working-class “local girl." By 1969, stay-at-home mom Ginny is caring for their 4-year-old son, Peyton, in a wealthy suburb while Ab, who never wanted to be a lawyer, is toiling away in his father’s high-powered Boston firm. After the premature birth of their second child, Ginny holds her daughter, Lucy, only briefly before the doctor whisks the infant away, explaining she is “mongoloid” and unlikely to survive long. Once her tranquilizers wear off, Ginny learns Ab has followed his rigidly autocratic father’s dictate and removed Lucy to a state-run facility called Willowridge, coincidentally located just outside Amherst. Though distraught, she accepts Ab’s decision. What is most problematic in the novel is not Down syndrome as an issue but Ginny as a character. Her passive dependence (not even learning to drive), “willful ignorance” in accepting whatever conditions her husband’s family demands, and further “willful ignorance” of current events like Vietnam and feminism make her seem anachronistic. In 1971, when Ginny learns that Willowridge, where she’s never visited although her mother lives nearby, is under investigation for mistreating children, she finally goes to see Lucy. What begins as a legally permitted off-campus weekend stay spirals out of control into technical kidnapping when Ginny decides she cannot take fragile but increasingly alert Lucy back, Ab and his family be damned. Poor Ab is portrayed as a spineless wonder even when he succumbs to Ginny's miraculous new strength of will.
A serious subject cheapened by melodrama that rings inauthentic.