Scarlet Kavanaugh has returned home to spend time with her activist mother who is dying, by choice- she refuses treatment, from cancer that has returned to ravage her body a second time. Much to Scarlet’s chagrin Addie wants to spend her final days not at her own home but at the home of her best friend Cora, and Addie has even bigger plans for her burial. The novel begins in the present where Addie has just died, Scarlet only a day before having told her a secret that will affect all of their lives. The third person narrative perfectly unfolds the story told in flashback, showing not only the evolution of Addie’s life with her husband Tom and best friends Lou and Cora, but also the tumultuous relationship that she and her daughter have shared over the years. In the present Scarlet is supported by Tom, Lou and Cora as she slowly begin to understand her mother and the choices she made in life and reluctantly comes to terms with her death.
Hinnefeld did a great job. This novel was so complex and so exquisitely written that it’s hard for me to even begin to know how to put my thoughts in order much less get them down on paper (or on blog, whatever). Suffice it to say that there is plenty of food for thought about relationships and their intricacies, and how people change and grow over a lifetime. Hinnefeld made some very interesting points about the different positions and theories that people hold in relationship to the environment and how our passions and interests, nd they way that we choose to pursue them can affect our children. Addie, Scarlet, Tom, Cora and Lou were complex and engaging and there wasn’t any taking of sides because the characters were so compassionately written and well drawn that while you may not have agreed with their actions, you knew exactly how they were able to understand and come to their choices. The perspective of each was easily seen as was how the situations had come about and how the different characters had been influences on each other.
Anyone who is interested in reading an intricate story about familial bonds and relationships will enjoy this novel very much. The characters are strong and principled, but flawed as they try to find their way in their relationships with each other through the years. There is also strong discussion about the environment, activism and how personal politics play out in the lives of real people. I really enjoyed reading the relationships of Addie and her friends and seeing how their friendships changed and matured as they left college, and tried to meet the expectations of society, marriage, motherhood and the expectations that they had of each other. There was such a strong bond between them that it was real pleasure to get to know them over the years and see them share in each others triumphs and tragedies.
And one last thought. This book is also a very compelling mystery with secrets in the air and slowly unfolding. You desperately want to make all the connections and know what they are, but at the same time the unfolding of the story and the characters lives are so interesting and beautiful that it’s easy to forget that you were looking for an answer.