Sue Miller is a master storyteller with the ability to reach into the heart of a story, exposing the feelings of a family in crisis. No one is ever prepared for tragedy, yet it strikes randomly, altering lives in the wake of grief. For Eva and her three children, tragedy strikes on a quiet day when she is walking with her second husband, John, and their child, Theo. John is struck by a car, killed instantly in front of wife and small son.
Eva's first husband, Mark, receives a call from seventeen-year-old Emily asking him to come and get the children, but she doesn't tell him why until they are safely at his home. Three-year old Theo appears too young to understand, but middle child, almost-fifteen-year-old Daisy, was particularly close to her stepfather, a gentle man who took the time to attend to her emotional needs. Eva is, of course, devastated.
The family and friends grope blindly through the following days in the beautiful Napa Valley wine country of the 1980s, seeking a return to some kind of normalcy and an end to seemingly endless grief. Months pass and the family returns to a routine, but nothing is the same for any of them. In the next few months, Mark imagines a life again with his former wife, although Eva is ambivalent, still reeling from the shocking loss of her beloved John.
The oldest daughter, Emily, is already moving away from the circle of family as the future calls to her, and Theo has yet to comprehend that his father has really gone forever. Surprisingly, it is Daisy, now fifteen, who suffers the immediacy of missing John, the man who had so generously taken over the fatherly role Mark unwittingly abdicated. Given to a natural quietude and isolation, the formerly gawky girl is growing into her beauty, a fact that doesn't go unnoticed by one of their circle, an older married man.
Like a moth to a flame, the vulnerable Daisy is seduced by the gentle, probing voice of experience, the worldly man who finds her so charming and open to his flattery. Daisy is transported into a private island of intimacy, physical yearning and what feels like a healing balm for the almost fathomless grief she has endured since John's death. The terrible loss too large for her to manage, Daisy steps over the threshold of sexual maturity, still a girl but now with the sensory awareness of a woman, unable to fix a moral compass to her burgeoning emotions.
Miller handles the scenes of seduction with incredible grace, perfectly capturing Daisy's innocence, vulnerability and desperate need for comfort, her descriptions weighted with poignancy, a careful melding of curiosity and satisfaction: "She felt he offered her a new version of herself, one she carried more and more with her into real life."
But it is Mark and Eva's courage as parents working for the good of their children that serves as catalyst to Daisy's coming to terms with the nature of her relationship with the older man, certainly a predator, as she will come to learn years later. It is Mark, Daisy's unengaged father, who must reach out to his troubled daughter if she is to have any chance for a healthy future and the promise of her youth. From a tangled web of grief and the emotional chaos of its aftermath, Miller creates a family in crisis who must learn to recover, adapt and make peace with the unalterable past, anchored by the overwhelming love of parent for child and the gift of forgiveness.