Oxford Ph.D. DeYoung’s debut novel about an extended family’s summer at the Maine shore in 1928 captures the mood and morals of a bygone era but intermittently stalls in the telling.
Thirteen-year-old Richard Killing II’s retrospective account of a family gathering at Shorecliff, his mother’s old family home, is filled with longing, love and regret as he remembers a fateful summer in a house filled with relatives. Richard is the youngest of 11 cousins, an only child who longs to join in the easy camaraderie that exists among the others, but he often feels invisible because of his youth and awkwardness. Thrilled to be spending the summer with them—a period of time that some of the older cousins resent, as they’re dragged away from their friends and other activities at home—Richard and his mother travel to Shorecliff, where he takes up residence in a small attic room. His father, a dour, judgmental attorney, doesn’t accompany them, much to Richard’s relief, although he shows up for a few days later in the summer. Richard’s happy to spend time with his Uncle Kurt and cousin Pamela, who’s only a bit older than he, but he desperately wants to be noticed and accepted by the older cousins. They recognize that Richard has a valuable—if dubious—skill: He eavesdrops on conversations. And it’s not too difficult to get him to spill the beans since, in those moments, he gets to bask in the spotlight. Richard not only snoops on his uncles and aunts, he also observes and mentally records his cousins’ activities: Tom, the golden boy, becomes besotted with a local girl; beautiful, spirited Francesca enlists malleable Charlie to become part of her rebellious escapades; Delia and Cordelia (the Delias) plot to release a tamed fox into the wild. As the summer wears on, Richard’s narration sometimes becomes mired in too much detail, but he always manages to get back to the heart of his affecting story. Some of his revelations seem innocent enough, but others are bombshells that change the dynamics of the family, shift individual perspectives and serve as catalysts for the events that follow.
DeYoung’s engrossing conclusion and exquisite tone make wading through the extraneous passages worth the effort.