Two women from rural Oregon reconnect 60 years after losing someone who meant a great deal to them both.
The novel opens in 1906 in Nehalem Valley, Oregon. Nineteen-year-old Bernadette Vaughn is the new local schoolteacher, and she is boarding with the Collier family. Bernadette has developed a warm friendship with Frances and Reginald Collier as well as their children, Wren and Henry. She is especially smitten with Reginald’s brother, Edwin. When Edwin proposes, the young teacher is ecstatic. The very next day, Edwin falls into a river, where his foot becomes tangled in tree roots, and he drowns under the force of the current. Bernadette grieves hard, and her parents arrive to carry her home. The novel then jumps 60 years to Arch Cape, Oregon, where we meet up again with Wren. Wren was a young girl when her uncle Edwin died and she lost touch with Bernadette. Now in her 60s, Wren reaches out to Bernadette and visits her. She’s uncertain why she sought out Bernadette or how long she intends to stay with her, but she feels comforted by the older woman. A series of unexpected events leads Wren to understand Bernadette in new ways and to better understand herself. Told in the third person, this slow-moving, insightful novel tackles questions of parenthood, marriage, and friendship with finesse and empathy. The drowsy pace and preponderance of introspection are balanced with striking descriptions of Oregon topography: “A blade of turquoise lined the mountains to the east where the sun hovered on the brink of rising.” The action picks up in the last quarter, but readers may doze off before they reach the denouement.
A desultory stroll through the lives of two unique women that wends its way toward a graceful conclusion.