The Glass Forest is an ingenious tale of family relationships gone wrong, secrets untold, and the lives of three women caught in the web of inscrutable men. Segueing from the early 1940s to the 1960s and back, from Wisconsin to Stonekill, New York, three generations act out a tragic family drama. The story unfolds through the perspective of three women: Silja, Ruby and Angie, each with her own fragile dream of happiness.
With World War II on the horizon, Silja, a Finnish immigrant, falls in love with handsome soldier Henry Glass They marry in haste, Silja soon to have a child, Henry off to war. As Mrs. Glass, Silja imagines the happy family life ahead, little Ruby soon to meet her father. Like many returning soldiers, Henry is a changed man, Silja determined to make her husband happy. Ruby is a joy to both, a physically and emotionally wounded father and a mother desperate to rekindle Henry's affection.
Angie Glass is a new bride in 1960. At 21, she is giddy with joy, marriage to the devastatingly handsome Paul Glass and the birth of their young son, PJ--the start of a magical life. Paul is older, but Angie finds that exciting. Though she barely spoke to Paul's brother, Henry, or his wife and daughter at the wedding, Angie is content with her little family, blinded by love for Paul. He receives a late-night call from his niece, Ruby, with tragic news: Henry has committed suicide in despair after finding a note from Silja saying she is leaving both husband and daughter. Angie refuses to be left behind when Paul goes to New York. Imagining her role as 17-year-old Ruby's caretaker, Angie anticipates Paul's grief as well, the two men best friends and confidants.
Arriving at Stonekill, the couple is stunned by Silja and Henry's house of glass walls surrounded by a forest. Specially designed, the glass allows complete transparency, isolated yet remarkable as the dark of night gives way to a bright dawn. Ruby describes how she found her father in the forest and the note her mother left; not inclined toward conversation, Ruby prefers staying in her room, secretly leaving from her window late at night to wander the woods, a landscape she knows well. As the days pass, there is little conversation, Angie's tentative gestures unsuccessful, Ruby only comfortable with her uncle. Paul is protective of the girl when the police demand an interviews with Ruby.
It is an eerie scenario, Paul and Angie residing in the home of a dead man and his missing wife, Ruby secretive and silent in the midst of chaos, looking to Paul for advice. Angie stands back, PJ in her arms, uncomfortable in a house where no one can hide. Ruby is all but orphaned in this house, death a silent presence skulking in shadows. Swanson brilliantly layers the experiences of each woman--mother, daughter, young mother--each stripped of hope, dreams shattered, the handsome if enigmatic men who hold them fast demanding much in return. Ruby wanders the forest, holding both mysteries and answers, the favored child of father and uncle, Silja's beloved child, alone.
Each of these characters is fully fleshed, whether dark or boisterous, affectionate or raging. Angie is but a pale outsider expecting to bring a troubled girl home, half-afraid she has been wrong about everything. Like a chapel meant to comfort the wounded, the dysfunctional or the hopeless, the shining glass windows and soaring wooden beams expose every secret but offer no grace. Clutching PJ to her heart, Angie sheds her naiveté and sleeps beside a stranger, discretely observing a girl who stoicly faces loss, a future without shape.