Sunday, August 19, 2012

Summer Family Sagas

The summer months may turn up the heat, but nowhere as profoundly as within extended families that come together to share vacation time. No matter the idyllic setting or good intentions, when loved ones gather, fireworks often ensue--making for some great drama on the page.

In The Red House by Mark Haddon, estranged British siblings Richard and Angela reunite at their mother's funeral. Afterward, Richard, a wealthy physician with a new wife and a wretched teenage daughter, invites Angela, her feckless husband and their three teenage children to his big country home in Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh border. As the polyphonic narrative unfolds, the reader comes to realize that these eight people--with vastly different personalities, operating systems and agendas--have brought a lot more baggage with them than meets the eye.

Fourth of July weekend in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts is the backdrop for The World Without You by Joshua Henkin. Shared grief and mourning unite the Frankels--a large, mostly nonobservant Jewish-American family--as they gather for a weekend at their parents' vacation home to unveil the gravestone for their brother Leo, a journalist and adventurer killed in Iraq a year earlier. But once everyone is settled beneath the same roof, the memorial becomes shrouded by sibling rivalries and marital feuds in this story of love, loss and the true meaning of family in the aftermath of tragedy.

Catholic guilt, alcoholism and bad choices are the undercurrents that propel J. Courtney Sullivan's Maine. The story is told via the distinct viewpoints of three generations of women from the Irish-American Kelleher clan who assemble, with their respective families and significant others, for their annual summer retreat at a cottage set on three acres of Maine beachfront property. Over the course of a month, family secrets are gradually unveiled that probe the relationships between the women, blurring the line between love and anger. 

Note: This article is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this piece as published on Shelf Awareness for Readers (8/3/12), link HERE