A newlywed uncovers some unsettling family secrets in this debut novel.
Thirty-six-year-old Anne Kinsman’s visit to her best friend Winkie near Milwaukee turns into a surprise bridal shower. Guests include her mother, two sisters and high school classmates she hasn’t seen in the 18 years since her graduation in 1964. Despite her considerable success as a fashion designer, at the party, she reverts to “Anne-the-Elephant,” deflecting mean-spirited comments about her low weight and lifelong dieting. Her 55-year-old Jewish fiance, Barry, owner of a line of upscale women’s boutiques, finds her size less troubling than her virginity, which she’s determined to cling to until after the marriage vows. Soon after the shower, the couple receives troubling news: The promiscuous Winkie is dead under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind an abusive husband and a perceptive 11-year-old girl, Anne’s goddaughter. Winkie’s death proves to be the loose thread that unwinds years of secrets. Anne’s strong narrative voice guides the story through WASP family get-togethers, newlywed clashes and office politics, offering pointed observations about relationships. “I love my father. I used to like him,” she says. She also weaves in considerable, sometimes catty, fashion commentary. Anne’s reaction after Winkie’s death is particularly well-drawn, showing the types of nonsensical thoughts that accompany the shock of death: “Ding-dong, the Winkie’s dead. Which old Wink? The Winkie-Wink.” In contrast, Barry’s family history tales, repeated more than once almost verbatim, don’t have the same ring of truth as Anne’s. However, they do echo the novel’s underlying exploration of how well you can truly know another person and what lies behind the facade of perfection. The book’s genre is a bit muddled: An early, long sex scene promises a steamy, romantic bend, while Winkie’s mysterious death hints at a possible crime or mystery thread. Neither genre is fully embraced, but as the book progresses, the distinction doesn’t matter. The excellent pacing—except for the dragging denouement containing the last of the family secrets—helps make for an easy, satisfying read.
Lively writing, brisk pacing and a likable narrator fill out this promising debut.