Emma, 43 and single, is the youngest of four daughters, three of whom live, along with their long-widowed mother, in a small-town Charleston suburb. She’s having all kinds of angst because in the midst of preparing for the annual big-deal family reunion, she finds a message on her answering machine from a long-ago lover (previously a sister’s boyfriend). This usually-reliable woman can’t seem to do anything about it, or about anything else going on around her.
I was frustrated with this book for a number of reasons. First, what is it with all these newer authors writing almost exclusively in the present tense? It gives the book a feeling of edginess it doesn’t need or merit. Secondly, the writing is very poor, often with very long sentences with too many phrases or clauses running the length of a paragraph, such as this one from page 134*:
There were the ridiculous humiliations of childhood that everyone suffers—teasing on the playground; not being part of whatever group was cool that week; not realizing that you are supposed to pant after boys when several girls are already panting; a discussion about sex during a sleepover that totally mystifies you because you have no clue what your girlfriends are talking about; thinking that you have always heard a different drummer but have never been quite able to find the right set of sticks to make sure the music does not stop; the random notion that something was always going on inside the family that you did not know about and that they did not think you were smart or old enough to know about; that feeling of “maybe I should too” when someone leaves a job, changes college majors, drops out or suddenly disappears; lost loves; the simple notion that no one you are related to will ever consider you an adult; the more complex notion that you may never really want to be an adult; expectations unmet; and this tremendous, and always growing, conviction that someone is always going to need you and you will be busy with the needing so you will never find the correct drumsticks anyway.
Between Emma’s almost nonstop ruminating (all talk/thought, little action) and her weird habit of lying down in her garden and “caressing her plants,” (page 38), I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for this character, nor for her dysfunctional sisters. The mother, Marty, was more interesting, finding love (and apparently great sex) again at age 78 after many years alone. Emma’s niece, the philosophical punk Stephanie/Stephie, and her beauty pageant subplot were also pretty unrealistic.
In particular, the ending was disappointing. Author Kris Radish covers the family reunion/Marty’s wedding and the beauty pageant, but leaves dangling the subplots on the long-ago lover and an upcoming intervention with the alcoholic oldest sister (mother of the niece and whose husband has an affair). Reading the resolutions to these would have been far more interesting than the reunion or the pageant. I can’t really recommend this book, even as a beach read.
[*A caveat though – this was an advance reading copy, so I can only hope such a scramble of syntax was corrected before the book went to press.]