At Close of Day
Joseph Bentz
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At Close of Day

Joseph Bentz
Bethany House
384 pages
April 2003
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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"I'll call my other family to come and get me."

Hugh Morris is lying in a hospital bed after suffering his third stroke. At his bedside are his wife and two of his three daughters. Angered by the thought of having to spend months rehabilitating in hospital, Hugh suddenly makes a shocking announcement that he has another family, a son in California. His wife immediately tells him to shut up and tries to pass off his comment as the confused ramblings of a brain-ravaged man. His daughters, however, particularly Jackie, are not so easily deterred.

Each chapter of At Close of Day is written from the viewpoint of a different character as Joseph Bentz explores the tensions that develop within the family, revealing to the reader the thoughts and feelings that are often hidden from the other members.

Meet the family:

Hugh is the father, a retired factory worker who has suffered a series of increasingly debilitating strokes. After revealing his secret he immediately regrets doing so, in fact is rather confused about the whole issue and at the same time disturbed by a letter from his first daughter which arrived just before he was rushed into hospital. He does not want his former family to come intruding into his life, but he has unwittingly started his daughters on a quest to find their secret siblings. Hugh grows increasingly irritated both by his family for treating him like a child and his own frequent slippages into confusion which cause them to do so.

Vonnie is Hugh's second wife and mother of three daughters. She inadvertently spills the beans about Hugh’s other children to Carolyn in the hope that she’ll offer protection form the other family. Vonnie is afraid that Hugh’s first daughter will show up suddenly and resent her for marrying Hugh. Vonnie’s mission is to keep the two families separate.

Carolyn, usually the quiet and sheepish daughter, is thrown into excitement by the knowledge of her other brother and sister. The first to find the truth, Carolyn is determined to contact her father’s secret daughter before her sister Jackie can step in and take control.

Herself a wife and mother, Pam is irritated by her father’s habitual criticism of her life. Nevertheless, she does not want to cause friction by talking to her father about his other family, at least not while he is still in hospital.

Jackie is the headstrong sister who considers herself the only member of the family fit to make decisions. Prone to exasperation and sarcasm, Jackie has the ability to rub her mother and sisters the wrong way and cause conflict.

Bentz has created a fascinating exploration of the complexity of two generations of family as they fight for reconciliation. He tells the story of a family forced to re-write its history when a traumatic secret is thrust upon them. Each character is well-developed, giving the reader an intimate view on the life of a modern family.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Corinna Underwood, 2004

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