Ellen Owen remains isolated in her cabin on the picaresque Cap Cod, having recently decided to spend six weeks apart from her husband, Dan. Ellen has isolated herself by design; she's unhappy with the way her marriage has been going and with much of her life so far, and Dan, with some bitterness, has reluctantly acquiesced to the arrangement.
Meanwhile, Willie, their thirteen-year-old son, is staying in camp, but in an email to Ellen, her brother Morris suggests that he come stay with him and Richard, his partner of fourteen years. Willie, of course, jumps at the opportunity as he could think of nothing better than spending the rest of the summer with his two favorite uncles.
Transplants to the Bay State from Alabama, Ellen and Morris are both successful academics and come from a close-knit family. Ellen is a poet and Morris a university professor, and they have a healthy relationship with their younger sister, Bonnie, who has recently moved back to their family home in Point Clear after abandoning her career as an actress in New York City.
Over the past year, however, things have begun to change in the Owen family. Roy Owen, the drunken and narcissistic family patriarch, has been dead now for ten months, and Bonnie graciously helped take care of him until the end, even though Roy was not particularly interested in any of his children.
Although they were never especially close to their father, paradoxically it is Ellen who has spent the last months grieving the saddest
and longest. But lately, Ellen has also been worrying about her younger sister, who has inexplicably stayed on at the family home in Point Clear because she's been so sidetracked by a new romance.
When Ellen receives a letter from Bonnie full of uncomfortable apologies, the effect is disquieting. Bonnie has married an evangelical preacher by the name of Pastor Vandorpe. The wedding was spontaneous, and Bonnie is sorry if she hurt her siblings' feelings by not inviting them, but she's found a measure of security and comfort with Pastor that she's never felt with anybody else.
When Morris and Ellen arrive in Alabama, both of them are shocked at the intensity of Pastor's commitment to Bonnie, the depth of his immediate understanding of her lifelong troubles, and his immediate and unconditional acceptance of Ellen and Morris into the family fold. Bonnie, however, still oozes a kind of unchecked fear and readily admits that, sadly, she's constantly been fretting about Morris and Ellen's opinions.
It seems that Bonnie's decision to marry so suddenly allowed her to postpone the business of admitting Morris's sexual orientation to Pastor, and deep down she hates herself for thinking of Morris as "a problem, as something to avoid."
As the family begins to fragment and sides are inevitably taken over Morris, Ellen is pulled toward a delayed consideration of the house of her childhood that has now been altered by Bonnie's fanatical remodeling and the permanent departure of their father. Curious over his own intentions, Pastor is torn between his strong desires for Bonnie and his very deep need to be cherished and loved by Morris and Ellen.
Peppering his novel with a quirky cast of characters, including Macy, the Owen's wry and ironic housekeeper, and Bobby Delk, a young man who has had a recent religious conversion to heterosexuality, author Dennis McFarland touches on matters of faith, forgiveness and
- in an oblique way – the nature of prejudice and "sin".
It is eventually left up to Ellen, who increasingly finds herself diffused across the bleak prospect of rescuing everyone, and she constantly frets about Morris and how Pastor's manipulations, well-intentioned or not, might hurt her brother, and also how it might affect Bonnie's marriage.
These are all lucky people in life, not to just materially have everything but also to have each other, and the deeply held bond that exists between them all is both touching and inspirational. As a result, Letter from Point Clear is an absolutely lovely, deeply moving novel about the ties that inexorably bind us together and the concerns that can suddenly tear us apart.