In a piquant novel of the Miller family gathering to celebrate Joe Millerís seventy-fifth birthday, The Birthdays proves, once more, that you canít go home again. When the clan meets at Great Salt, Maine, at the summer cottage of the most successful sibling, Jake, they bring with them all the expectations and misinterpretations of family history.
But life is seldom as simple as we would like. Daniel, Jake and Hilary and their spouses trek toward the cabin, each beset by obstacles. The family hasnít been together for a while and is soon be changed by the pregnancies of two daughters-in-law, Brenda and Liz, wives of Daniel and Jake, respectively. Much to everyoneís surprise, thirty-five-year-old, unmarried Hilary is also pregnant, adding another dramatic layer to the story.
Following each coupleís progress to Great Salt, it is clear that married life is complicated at best, pregnancy only adding tensions to the issues at hand. Danielís life has undergone the most challenges: he became a paraplegic in an auto accident a year and a half earlier, and their child-to-be is a product scientific intervention.
Not yet accustomed to his radically diminished life, Daniel is plagued by self-doubt, ill-humored and confused by Brendaís increasing hormonal discontents. Jake isnít reacting well to his wifeís incipient motherhood either, disappointed because they had to resort to in-vitro fertilization to accomplish the pregnancy.
To everyoneís increasing irritation, Jakeís neediness is obvious, especially aggravating to his perfectionist wife. In contrast, Hilary is the consummate rebel, refusing to name the childís father, her life plans changing as opportunities arise.
Having never given much thought to their parents, Daniel, Jake and Hilary only now consider the nature of that relationship, suddenly noticing Joeís aging and Ellenís tendency to secrecy. Yet the siblings resort to old habits when dealing with family issues, seemingly unable to accept their more adult roles.
In the midst of preparations, a dramatic turn of events forces the Millers to face uncomfortable truths about themselves, confronted with the knowledge that they have no control over life on lifeís terms. The celebration turned somber by events, grown children, spouses and parents realize that petty resentments are best laid to rest.
All of Heidi Pitlorís characters are familiar, although none are particularly appealing as they struggle through the small agonies of competition, failures of communication and snap judgments that create distance over time. Only through forgiveness and acceptance are the Millers able to forge ahead, united against the world in support of one another.