This novel includes characters from the author’s previous books, both of which I adored: Love Walked In and Belong to Me. I read them quite some time ago, however, and wish the author had included more background about who the characters were to refresh my memory. The family relationships are complicated, and I could have used additional reminders about how they all came into each other’s lives.
In this book, the narration shifts between Clare Hobbes (in the present) and Edith Herron (in the 1950’s). Both of their stories are quite compelling. Clare is about to get married to Zach, with whom she has been for a year. When we first encounter Clare she is reciting a list of the reasons to her mom and her mom’s BFF Cornelia as to why she should marry Zach, even though it is the weekend of her wedding – clearly an ominous sign.
Back in 1950, Edith has just gotten married to Joseph, a seemingly perfect man, who provides her “blue sky” even on cloudy days.
As the chapters progress, we discover (not much to our surprise) that Zach is a mentally unstable jerk, and that Clare feels compelled to marry him because he wants to marry her so much, leading her to ignore her own misgivings. She keeps insisting “No one, not one person, has ever needed me like he does.”
The very day of her wedding to Zach, Clare meets Edith, now much older. She and Edith have a long conversation, and what Edith says to her convinces Clare to call of the ceremony. Specifically, Edith asserts, “No one should live with someone who scares her.” This sentence was a “revelation” to Clare, because in fact, Zach does scare her, both because of his anger, and because of how obsessive he is about Clare.
Edith argues, “Zach needs you. [But] what do you need?” She confides to Clare: “I know the pull of a dark, complicated man, the kind who has trouble loving anyone but you. But let me tell you this: the ones who look like home are home.”
Edith also meets Dev Tremain – Clare’s former boyfriend for five years. He happens to be Cornelia’s stepson, and Clare and Dev have remained friends even after breaking up. Edith asks her why she isn’t with Dev anymore, and Clare explains: “He was my first love, from the time we were thirteen until I graduated from high school. I don’t even know if it was love the way other people mean love. We imprinted on each other more than anything else.” Edith opines: “Sounds to me like as good a description of love as any.”
As to why it ended with Dev, Clare recounts that Dev went to Africa for a gap year before college. Dev didn’t see that it mattered, because, as he said to Clare: “We’re us, remember? Even when we’re apart, we’re together. Quantum locality? Electron entanglement? Remember? We’re outside the space-time continuum, Clare, where distance just isn’t. Wherever I am, I’m yours. We’ll be okay. I’d never leave it I weren’t sure about that.”
But Clare fell apart. She hated that she felt so lost without Dev; that she didn’t know who she was without him and couldn’t function. So when he came back, she broke up with him so she could find herself. But “because we couldn’t stand not to be, we became best friends….” Now it is four years later and “look where it got me. Four years later, and here I am: cold feet on my wedding day, like some idiot cliche.”
“Maybe it worked, the growing up,” said Edith, quietly. “Maybe it was all leading up to right now. . . . If your grown-up self took you by the hand right now, where would she lead you?”
So Clare breaks off the wedding, but Zach doesn’t accept that their relationship is over; he thinks she just needs more time. Clare herself is riddled with guilt and misgivings.
Then, two weeks after Clare had meet Edith, Clare learned Edith had died of cancer, and amazingly enough, bequeathed Clare a house in Antioch Beach, Delaware called The Blue Sky House. It had been uninhabited for nearly sixty years, but kept in good shape by a maintenance company. Clare takes off to see it and explore the mystery of who Edith was. And she asks Dev to help her.
Working together, they solve the mystery of Edith, and Clare solves the mystery of Clare.
Evaluation: Marisa de los Santos writes lovely stories with beautiful turns of phrase. It’s hard not to fall in love with her characters and with her concept of extended families.
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2018