First-time novelist Maile Meloy weaves the fragile strands of five generations into a lush tapestry where secrets and silence lurk, causing family ties to unravel. When Yvette Grenier marries Teddy Santerre, a Marine soon to be shipped to the Pacific Theater, her whole life lies like a feast before her. At the end of World War II, the couple settles down to raise two daughters, Margot and Clarissa.
The family's commitment to Roman Catholicism is firmly entrenched, the weight of their convictions underlying every choice and their daily lives controlled by conscience as defined by their religion. From the 1950's to the upheavals of the 60' and 70's, like most families, the Santerres are affected by the changing landscape of American social mores. Their children break away from the traditional values of the parents, experimenting with a variety of lifestyles, and by the 80's and 90's, must deal with the consequences of their actions.
Margot and Clarissa are almost grown when Jamie is born. Then the secrets begin. Over the years, each girl marries and goes her own way, but Jamie struggles with a lack of direction, wandering aimlessly from one family member to another. He gravitates towards younger sister Clarissa, who lives alone with her daughter in California following a painful divorce. For a while, Jamie knows contentment with Abby and Clarissa before drifting back into his nomadic ways. While Yvette is an anchor to her children, Jamie's relationship with his father is habitually strained, a continuing source of pain for both father and son.
When Yvette and Teddy renew their marriage vows on their fiftieth wedding anniversary, everyone gathers in Santa Barbara for the celebration and the opportunity to reunite after years of geographic distance. Soon after, they are challenged by tragedy, tested by a tragic loss and the inability to make the emotional connections they so desperately need. Family secrets slowly surface, bringing some members of the family closer, healing long festering wounds.
Meloy's family saga is an engaging story, comfortable as an old housecoat. As the chapters slip by, the characters are soon as familiar as distant relatives. Seemingly effortless, Meloy's talent belies the structure of a carefully erected plot, sustaining five generations through the domestic upheavals and petty jealousies that alienate the Santerres from each other. In the end, each family member finds the capacity for forgiveness enlarged by personal experience, offering solace and acceptance where secrets no longer wield the power to destroy.