In spite of being an avid reader, I remain astonishingly dense when it comes to picking up clues, innuendos, and allusions in plots. Thus, when I began this book, I couldn’t imagine how any of what I was reading could possibly be explained. I persevered however, and was rewarded by it all making sense to me in the end (and into the wee hours of the night, when I was reviewing what happened in my head).
Laurel Nicolson is sixteen years old in 1961 when she witnesses something terrible and inexplicable to her (and to me!) that shatters her illusion of her family’s life as “perfect.” The book next moves us up fifty years, to 2011, when Laurel’s mother, now almost 90, is dying. Laurel again has occasion to ponder the events of that summer’s day so long in her past, and begins to feel desperate to find out what it all meant before her mother is no longer around to share the truth. As the story moves backwards and forwards in time from the 1940’s to 2011, we, along with Laurel, finally come to understand the secrets that have remained hidden for all those years.
Discussion: This book moved quite slowly for me at first. Nothing was making sense to me, and I was impatient with the author’s languid build-up of atmosphere. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to stop reading. When I finally got gobsmacked by what other astute readers might have seen long before, I was fully invested with the story. There are at least two other ways I can think of that it could have all turned out, and it seems to me that the author chose the best of the possibilities.
The characters are very well-drawn, their portraits rich with irony. There is Dolly Smitham, who loved to pretend (“There was nothing that made her spin quite like it, the invisible moment of transition when she stopped being Dolly Smitham, and became instead Someone Else”); Jimmy Metcalfe, a sensitive World War II photographer who specialized in the breaking-through of illusions; and Vivien Jenkins, the mysterious and beautiful woman whom no one seemed to know. You will find it hard to forget any of them!
Evaluation: If you feel a bit lost or stalled at the beginning, as I did, I recommend staying the course. I admit that I didn’t appreciate the book much until the end, when all the meanings and the well-crafted ironies became clear. My evaluation of the book increased quite a bit at that point.
Published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2012