The persistent soundtrack of Abeel’s novel hovers, just at the level of consciousness, the melodic notes of a piano concerto filling the rarified rooms of power and the arts in New York, the world of publishing and music, the plaintive notes of Madeline Shaye’s genius accompanying every scene, either flagrantly dramatic or hauntingly chaotic.
Pursued by the trilling scales of her own talent, Maddy’s brush with the eccentricities of wealth allows her easy entrance into the otherworldly estate of new friend Violet Ashcroft. Invited to Conscience Point, the Ashcroft’s gaudy gothic family residence, Maddy is stunned by the lavish display of material goods, attracted to Violet’s emotional excesses, Violet’s mother, Serena, who exists among her aviary of winged creatures rather than her children, and Violet’s impossibly handsome brother, Nick, erudite, entitled, and irresistible.
Once seduced by the Ashcrofts, Maddy is easy prey for Violet’s incessant demands, for Nick’s pointed attention, despite the adoring creature on his arm. On the precipice of a brilliant career, Maddy stumbles through a distracting summer, veering off course through a series of decisions that sidetrack her certain success - an impetuous marriage, an adopted daughter.
Years later, Maddy meets Nick unexpectedly and the two begin a delayed romance. His wife, emotionally fragile, is hardly an impediment to their happiness: “There’s a faux finish on almost everything. Just like our family.” Happiness delayed is all the sweeter, Maddy distracted by her perfect life until the unpredictable occurs and she is left to question every decision, every flawed premise that has shadowed her since those heady days in Conscience Point. By 1977, everything has shifted, dreams suddenly weighted with irrefutable facts.
This rarified study of the privileged is made more palatable by gorgeous prose (“The tide had risen high on the beach as though coveting the land.”) that evokes and stimulates (“She’s rubbed up against something furry and foul in a dark cave, she sensed a host of eyes and heard a chorus of insect screeches.”), exotic locations, and the author’s deliberate exposure of the pretensions that substitute for authenticity as Maddy rebuilds her shattered expectations after yet another challenge: “The rich, immersed in their own desires, need never bump into reality.”
A bit of an iconoclast, Maddy exists around the edges of society’s elite, unable to resist either Violet or Nick’s siren call. It is simply her talent that tethers Maddy to her life - that and a freighted love for her adopted daughter that presents the greatest obstacle of all. Much of her adult years spent in reaction to her disappointments, Maddy’s task is to define herself apart from the folly of her youth, to learn the contours of a new landscape: “We don’t get what we want. We’re shown it. But we can’t have it.”