This is a deceptively simple and subtle book about family. The key characters are siblings, Danny and Maeve. There are some astonishing acts of cruelty in their early life but also acts of transcendent kindness. Danny is someone who lacks introspection – he commits to a task like learning chemistry with dogged determination; liking the subject is irrelevant. Unfortunately, he applies the same approach to his relationships, i.e. his wife, so love and happiness are non-factors in his relationships. His true happiness is only expressed to and with Maeve. Consequently, forgiveness is difficult for him, a fact that will complicate his life. Like most of Patchett’s writing, this is very fine story-telling.
Patchett is a great writer and this latest book is a wonderful story of what appears to be entirely dysfunctional families. A blended family with step-children united in their dislike of their parents, and each other, is described wonderfully. Then over 5 decades, relationships change and evolve. A favourite sentence that encapsulates how relationships change: “She had loved Bert Cousins, and then grown used to him, then was disappointed in him and then later, after he left her, with five small children, she had hated him with the full force of her life”. Wow.