Lily Hill is an elderly woman living alone in a big rambling New England house, the sort of house regarded as a “home away from home” by all members of the extended Hill family. And during the summer of 1989, several Hill family members decided to take respite at the Hill family home. Lily’s thrice-widowed brother Harvey arrived first, halfheartedly offering to help with various home improvements which had proven too much for Lily to handle on her own. Later Lily’s niece Ginger and grand-niece Betsy arrived, Ginger having recently left an unhappy marriage. On their heels were Lily’s nephew Alden (recently let go from his job), his wife Becky, and their four children. And finally, Harvey’s grandson Arthur and his partner Phoebe paid a surprise visit.
As it turned out, no one was just visiting. Everyone was there for the duration, working through personal issues large and small, nurtured by a house that is almost a character itself. While each family member is fiercely independent, their continuous close contact fosters a certain interdependence as well. Becky takes on most of the meal planning and cooking. Letters are written and left on a table, taken to the post office by whoever happens to be heading that way. Somehow the laundry gets done, the house is kept clean (sort of), and everyone manages to both get along and avoid each other in equal measure. Over the course of a year, the family assimilates into the community and their stories develop along several interconnected threads.
I thoroughly enjoyed Nancy Clark’s writing. She describes family and small-town drama with a delightful wit:
For, just a few nights ago at supper, Ginger had been talking about her firewalking seminar, one of those exercises she put herself through when she was still trying to save that marriage of hers — or had it, in the end, given her the impetus to leave Louis? Lily, listening carefully for once because it all sounded so unlikely, hadn’t caught her point as Ginger seemed to claim that her personal firewalk across a glowing pit dug behind a Ramada Inn on the outskirts of Wichita had led her both toward and yet away from poor Louis. He had become poor Louis in Lily’s mind, although not for having lost Ginger — rather, frankly, for having won her in the first place. (p. 73)
Every single paragraph is packed with detail just like that passage. Clark’s style is wordy, and requires careful reading; small details buried in lengthy descriptions often become significant later on. As the year progresses family members are involved in romance, crime, small-town corruption, and no small measure of personal growth. As I read this book, several passages brought tears to my eyes — tears more sentimental than sad. And there were many times I sat back and smiled as I watched a series of events come together in a satisfying way. The ending included a bit of both. This is a rich, rewarding, thoroughly enjoyable read.