Olivia Pentland has been caught up in her old-world, New England, Puritanical family since marrying into it many years ago. While she has had financial security, she has given up all else – independence, originality, and most of all: love. She has been able to cope mainly with the support of her father-in-law, whom she perceives as a wise ally. But with the advent of her cousin by marriage, Sabine, who has been away in Europe for the past twenty years, her world is shaken to its core. Sabine, in her malevolent, selfish, and direct manner, bursts upon the family’s tautly held secrets and slices them wide open at their core. Can Olivia save at least her daughter, if not herself, from the chaos that will ensue?
This is another Pulitzer-prize-winning disappointment, I have to say. It begins with the creation of an atmospheric setting and mysterious characters that are colorful and captivating. We come to appreciate Olivia for her patience and her balance, even as she tolerates the weakness of her single-minded husband, the impudence of her husband’s intrusive aunt, and frustration of her own feelings of being trapped in a life of stagnation. But this also creates the expectation that something monumental is about to happen. And while there are things that do happen, the monumental thing we expect really doesn’t ever occur. I found that a let-down.
Maybe that was the point? Maybe Olivia’s expectation was that in her life she’d have opportunities, given her wealth and the prestige of her husband’s background. Maybe she thought she’d have the chance for romance, for excitement, for fulfillment. She was on the brink – but she had to pull back for her family’s sake and for her own. And maybe that is how life can just be sometimes and we have to accept that. Maybe that is the lesson we are to learn.
Lesson or not, though, to me it fell short and I felt, as the reader, short-changed.
I’d be curious to know if others had a similar reaction to this novel. Any opinions out there?