Though Serendipity looks a bit like an historical novel based solely on the cover, it’s actually about a young woman named Carrie living in present-day New York City. Her mother, Rose, recently died, leaving Carrie lost and bereft. Rose was a New York icon, known both as “theater royalty” – the granddaughter of Broadway legend Lu Lawson and wife of the late Broadway playwright Bobby Manning – and for her amazing philanthropic work.
As Carrie remembers her, Rose disdained any displays of wealth. Rose firmly believed that she should live simply, though she had plenty of money from her husband’s trust. When Carrie was very young, Rose asked her to give all of her toys to the homeless children at the shelter they worked at as a mother-daughter team. Carrie’s life with Rose always centered on giving up everything in order to help the less fortunate.
However, when Carrie goes through Rose’s belongings after her death, she comes across some clues that make her wonder if she really knew Rose at all. Desperately seeking closure, Carrie begins seeking out family members whom Rose forbade her from talking to so that she might understand her mother’s traumatic past, what happened to her that changed her and gave her all that guilt. In her quest to discover who Rose Manning was, Carrie uncovers certain truths about herself and comes to terms with her mother’s death.
Serendipity is a great read about uncovering secrets buried in the past and understanding how they can affect the present. The story is told in alternating time periods, an effective technique for a novel such as this. When Carrie is learning about her grandmother (Lu) and mother (Rose), the story jumps back in time. In this way, Shaffer shows the reader what happened, rather than simply telling them.
The characters in Serendipity are well-developed. Admittedly, Lu is a difficult character to like, but she is not difficult to understand. It’s easy to see why she makes the decisions she does, even though she seems selfish. That’s a difficult feat for an author to accomplish. Though Rose was extremely generous with her time and money, in some ways she was just as selfish as Lu.
Carrie is simply damaged by a lack of understanding. She can’t comprehend what prompted her mother to cut off all contact with her grandmother, what happened when her father died when Carrie was just three years old, and what changed her mother from an apparently fun-loving girl into a somber woman who took no pleasure in anything except her philanthropy. It’s a wonderful mix of varying personalities, all of them well-crafted and sympathetic.
Serendipity is like a breath of fresh air: light, easy to read, and wonderfully written. Highly recommended!