Recovering alcoholic returns to her ancestral cottage to confront family ghosts, in Gamble’s second (The Water Dancers, 2003).
Maddie Addison has been estranged from her family for 11 years, since her infant daughter died of SIDS at the family summer home and she fell into despair, awash in booze. With the help of Ian, her filmmaking partner and best friend, she joined AA and has attained relative serenity in Manhattan. Now, however, she has been summoned back to the Aerie, a massive, ramshackle residence on Sand Isle in Upper Lake Michigan, a private island resort for the descendants of Midwestern oligarchs, including the Addisons, founders of a shampoo and cold-remedy empire. Maddie’s widowed mother, Evelyn, paying the wages of her inveterate tippling, is moribund after a stroke, and Maddie has returned for a final reckoning with her. But since her mother is now physically as well as emotionally incommunicado, Maddie must make do with exorcising her unresolved passion for her twin cousins, Derek and Edward, and parsing the strangeness of anorexic, guru-besotted cousin Adele. The story’s second part recaps Maddie’s youth—Aerie summers, when she trails Great-Grandmother Addie’s ghost, bundles in an upstairs room with Edward, who may or may not have whacked her pet chipmunk, and joyrides with wild-child sister Dana in the family station-wagon. She attends Harvard and NYU, blows her chance of marrying plastic-bag scion Jamie, marries fellow cineaste Angus instead, has his child. Back in 1999, she catches her niece Jessica and Derek’s son Beowulf flirting with kissing-cousin-dom and is bemused by cousin Sedgwick’s functioning drunkenness and Dana’s straitlaced Catholicism, overcompensation for a hush-hush abortion years before. As for Edward, he’s long since disappeared into madness after a stint in Vietnam. In all, Evelyn remains a cipher but so does Maddie, while Gamble skirts or underplays money and class issues, and genteel punch-pulling deflates any potential conflict.
Though it honors Edward’s urging to slip “beneath the surface,” Gamble’s effort, albeit worthy, doesn’t go deep enough.