One summer morning of 1976, Robert Riordan has walked out of the house under the pretense of buying a newspaper only to not return home. The Riordian children – Michael Francis, Monica and Aoife return home trying to find any slightest clue that could throw some light on the motive/reason for this disappearing act or where to start looking for him. As the story progresses, we get to know about the family dynamics, the personal lives of each Riordian, the past and the secrets it holds…..
Michael Francis’ marriage with Claire is currently going through a rough patch. After being a doting mother to his kids and a devoted wife to him, Claire has begun the process of rediscovering herself and a step towards it she has decided to complete her degree. To say that Michael is not-so-pleased and confused with all the transformation in his household is an understatement – bewildered / clueless would be a better word for it.Nowadays, he is coming to a house in disarray with his wife who has locked herself up in the room with her books with instructions to be called only “in a matter of life or death “. He and his kids (specially) do not have her entire time and attention nowadays – the new Claire has too many demands on her time. The kids are getting used to the idea but Michael cannot easily do so. He suspects that the reason for Claire’s new direction in life is sort of a rebellion against him or maybe there is more to it than some new found enthusiasm for academia and social life…..
Farrell beautifully describes the crisis Michael finds himself in – What he finds hardest about family life is that, just when you think you have a handle on what’s going on, everything changes it.
Monica, Gretta’s favorite has her own domestic hassles which she is trying to right it out but does not seem to succeed at it very well. She is currently living with an antiques dealer and is trying to gel with his two daughters but is clueless as to how to clear the animosity they feel towards her and to win them over. She is determined to live a picture-perfect life and is determined to rough it out …
Aoife, the black sheep of the family has moved to America to lead a normal life like others free from the judging looks of the family. She is a functional illiterate (the descriptions fit the symptoms of dyslexia perfectly!) working as an assistant to one of the photographers who is expected to manage the financial stuff too .But how could she confide to her employer about her problem? She has learned to manage the cheques by shoving them in a file and putting it out of sight. For her struggle with the written word, she has a stock of reasonable sounding excuses or casual phrases that help her out easily. Even her boyfriend has never come to suspect her. But, how long can she keep up the charade? Won’t it be better for her to ask for help atleast now?
We see that each of them have their own secrets (including the eccentric matriarch of the family), their private struggles in the course of the book. The characters evolve through reminiscences about each other and their shared past and we get to know their past and pivotal incidents that might have shaped the family history. What I absolutely loved about this book was its beautiful language, evoking a vivid picture of the summer long gone. The narrative is fluid despite alternating between past and present. The narrative is interesting with several techniques employed tactfully – memory, perspectives, bird’s eye view of domestic scenes and city life… For me, there were a few instances which I had encountered in my own life and which the author had described perfectly in relation to one of the characters
Along with the Riordan children we get to know a shocking family secret and how they deal with it forms the crux of the story…..
One minor theme that struck a chord with me is that some of us might judge our friends/family quite harshly for their conduct in certain circumstances while our own behavior under similar circumstances might not be very honorable. Yet, we have excuses for ourselves but would vehemently deny others their excuses. Farrell explores several such interesting aspects of relationships and families and it’s a treat to let the story unfold at its own pace. Here are few excerpts from the book that bear testimony to Farrell’s superb narrative
“Strange weather brings out strange behavior. […] so a heatwave will act upon people. It lays them bare,it wears down their guard. They start behaving not unusually but unguardedly. They act not so much out of character but deep within it
She’d whispered, ‘Make it deep,’ to him, before realizing that she’d heard those words before, in similar circumstances. Always strange, to catch yourself echoing your parents’ words, to find experiences coming round again. The same yet different.
Melodrama is her specialty, like the time Aoife returned home from school to discover her mother had been to visit a funeral parlor after finding a lump in her throat. She knew she was dying, she knew this was it, she could feel it in her bones, and wanted a ‘ good send-off’ at the ‘right sort ‘ of funeral home , with plenty of early afternoon slots, so that there was time for a Mass to be said beforehand and time for a wake back at the house afterwards. It was the least she could do for them all. Aoife requested to see the lump, examined the place beside her mother’s collarbone and told her it was an insect bite. […] the first time Gretta had a proper crisis to grapple with, she seems to shrink in the face of it, to abandon all of her usual tricks.
His father minus his mother is an unsolvable equation. His silence is leavened by her loquaciousness, his order and impassivity the counterpoint to her chaos and drama.
For some of the most beautiful quotes on parenthood –
The air for Gretta, still rings with their cries, their squabbles, their triumphs, their small griefs. She cannot believe that time of life is over. For her, it all happened and is still happening and will happen forever. The very bricks, mortar and plaster of this house are saturated with the lives of her three children. She cannot believe they have gone. And that they are back.
[Michael on the passing of infant hood of his children]
[..] he mourned it’s passing too: the sense of the children’s intense, zealous need of you, their overwhelming urge to be near you, to study you,to watch you as you peel an orange, wrote a shopping list, tied your shoes, the feeling that you were their study in how to be human.[..] yes, it’s gone, but life holds other things, when everything changed again.
There were a few narrative threads like Monica’s future which seemed to be an abrupt conclusion which raised too many questions. That is my only complaint with Farrell’s book. It is hinted that the man who went to get newspaper and disappeared finally made his appearance at the last page of the book!!It is a beautiful read and I would urge my readers strongly to pick up the book.
Do share your thoughts on the post or the book in the comments section below.Until the next post then…