The problem with a second novel is that it must prolong the curiosity of the first, continue to move the story along, and also keep the characters from becoming dull. For those readers who enjoyed author Maile Meloy's Liars and Saints, her sequel - A Family Daughter - will certainly provide an effective follow-up, connecting to past characters as well as bridging the gap to the next generation.
In A Family Daughter, Meloy returns to the Santerres family, telling her story from the perspective of Clarissa's daughter Abby, who is about to attend university in San Diego. Beautiful and sensual, Abby is also an emotional and complicated wreck. As the novel opens, she is visiting a therapist to try and make sense of her life.
Abby has a close relationship with Ben, her father, but when he is shockingly killed in a car accident, Abby is set adrift. Her mother is too distant and self-involved to take that much of an interest in her.
Unmoored and shaken to the core, she falls in love with her thirty-one-year-old Uncle Jamie, who has been a supportive influence since Abby was seven years old.
Although they know that having sex together is wrong, they are both buoyed by a fierce attraction to each other, a brutal sense of togetherness, and the nagging suspicion that they may not even be related. As the affair progresses, Abby begins to write a novel about a Catholic family who keep secrets from each other.
Ostensibly a work of fiction, it is a thinly disguised veil of her own family. The novel is accepted for publishing, and her parents and grandparents read the galleys.
Their reaction is sudden, a complex mixture of outrage and consternation. Now the major players in this quietly intuitive domestic drama are ready to seek out part of their pasts, each attempting to find their own way.
A Family Daughter is a divergent and multi-layered novel. Malloy keeps introducing characters
who exist on the periphery of the Santerres' lives – a spoiled countess, a devious Hungarian prostitute, and a calculating French lawyer. At one stage, the narrative totally changes tack to Argentina, which some readers may find a bit far-fetched. Meloy, however, is always in control of her narrative, constantly contrasting different points of view and exposing the miscommunications, disappointments and expectations of this family and the people who fall
under their radar.
Teddy, the Santerres patriarch, with his ailing eyesight and declining health, wonders why his family make the kind of decisions they do and choose to live such errant lives. An old-style Catholic father, his beliefs have made him rigid.
He can't understand why Jamie hasn't settled down the way he expected, and why his daughters lives are not what he wanted for them. He
is a man who represents the old guard, wanting what is understandable and morally unambiguous and not filled with strife, "to trust Go and sow faith and Love."
At novel's end, none of the characters achieve Teddy's wishes or are that fulfilled: Clarissa remains capricious and self-centered; Margo, bored with her housewifely existence, reconnects with an old flame and throws herself into an illicit affair; handsome Jamie marries - but not for love; and the lovely Abby remains baffled at her family's dysfunctions and contradictions.
While A Family Daughter isn't as tightly plotted and as realistic as its prequel, it is still an unusual examination of a modern American family in crisis, "a crazy invented family," and a compelling portrait of a family where faith, God and logic sit uneasily side by side.