From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades.
Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of the family he has yet to create, Bill buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life seems compelling and answerable, and they marry and have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, at a time when women chafed at the conventions imposed on them. She finds salvation in art, but the cost is high.
Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family’s future. One by one, the siblings take turns telling the story–Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; Ryan, a schoolteacher; and James, the malcontent, the problem child, the only one who hasn’t settled down-their narratives interwoven with portraits of the family at crucial points in their history. – Goodreads
First things first, let’s just take a moment to admire that cover, shall we? Okay, now, on to my thoughts.
This book begins with Bill Blair. Fresh from military service, he is looking for a new start at life in California. He finds a tract of land where he can picture a house under the shade of a huge oak tree. He falls in love with the land, and with the life he can imagine there. His imagined life soon comes to include Penny, a young woman he meets by chance.
Cut to several years and four children later. The house is built, Bill is a pediatrician with a thriving practice and Penny is struggling to handle four children and still find time for her artistic passions. Our first real introduction to the Blairs is when the children are still quite young. Robert is the oldest, serious and prone to nervous stomachaches. Then comes Rebecca, observant and smart as a whip. Next is Ryan, a soft-hearted, affectionate boy – and the only of the four children to attend an alternative school. The youngest, James, is a ball of energy. He’s the most demanding of attention, often causing mischief and upsetting Penny.
It’s hard to describe this family without giving away any of the details of the adults they will become. Because the details are the entire point of this story. I found it fascinating to see how the personalities and characteristics each had as children translated into the life choices they made as adults – often leading them to their careers and partners. Each sibling is unique, yet their communal upbringing has shaped each life and created a shared history that affects every interaction the siblings have.
I loved how this book was structured. The perspective of the book shifts seamlessly between family members, and shows us the inner workings of each. This allows us to really get to know and care for every character. None of them are perfect – nor is their family (but what family is?), and yet they balance one another well, and each has one aspect of their personality that sets them apart from the others.
As an only child, I found this insider’s view of a lively brood of siblings riveting. The ways their roles reflect their relationships with one another, and how they can never quite manage to change them – no matter how many years or life changes intervene.
This was undeniably a great read. I’m not big on family sagas – I don’t know what it is, but they often lose me. Something about the pacing and focus that can drag for me, even when it’s well done. That said, this was one of the best I’ve read, and I found that I was more drawn into the story and more attached to the characters than I expected to be. If you are a fan of family sagas (or if you haven’t been in the past but want to try again), this is one you will definitely want to pick up ASAP.
Author: Ann Packer
Published By: Scribner
Released: April 7, 2015
Genre: Fiction, Family, Character-Driven
Date Read: April 6-May 4, 2015