Synopsis:Spanning the last fifty years, this family saga focuses on three generations of women as they grapple with their personal demons, confront professional challenges and shifting social mores, and fumble their way to lasting relationships. Different attitudes to sex & marriage and different versions of success are at the heart of this novel—and getting those right is the quest of each main character. Along the way, however, they read their own hearts wrong or are let down by others. Centering on the years 1967, 1985 and 2003, the action unspools from the alternating, chapter-by-chapter perspective of members of the Masterson family, most notably the two daughters. Less than a year apart in age, the sisters differ in looks, temperament and talents. Callie is the brainy one; Mellie, the beauty. They delight and befuddle their parents, who have their own stresses to manage and disappointments to overcome. (Dr. Richard Masterson is a thoracic surgeon with a wandering eye; his wife, Elena Garcia Masterson, is a highly educated immigrant who nonetheless has trouble asserting herself.) We first meet their two daughters as seniors at an Atlanta high school: Mellie is struggling with her classes, Callie, with her self-image. Unexpectedly, though, both fall in love—but to each’s unbeknownst, with the same young man, Erin O’Leary. For him, Vietnam intervenes; for them, life is never quite the same. We next zoom in on the sisters in 1985. Callie has married and is living in New York with her lawyer husband, and their young child, Thallie. Disappointing her father, she has abandoned her dream of becoming a doctor and is working as a nurse. Mellie, after giving up the baby she conceived at eighteen, has ended up in Hollywood, working in the film industry. Men are attracted to her like bees to honey, but one of them, her job supervisor, assaults her. In a classic case ofhe said, she said, she does not win out. What she does do is decide to locate the son she had given up. Meanwhile, back in Atlanta their parents are going through their own life changes. Elena has landed a government job helping Latino immigrants—and is thriving. With a new lease on life, she even embarks on a love affair; for his part, Richard continues to operate on patients but feels he is losing his touch. The couple’s greatest mutual joy becomes little Thallie, who bonds particularly with her grandmother, picking up Spanish in no time. That skill will stand her in good stead. What finally brings all the characters closer together in the post-9/11 world —including Mellie’s son, Daniel, and Callie’s long-estranged husband, David—is a family emergency like no other. To everyone’s dismay, and disbelief, Richard and Elena are snatched up by Colombian insurgents while on a pilgrimage to her native village, an ordeal which not only tests their characters but reorients the lives of the entire Masterson circle.
Excerpt:To think I was doing so well, caught up as I was in the stürm und drang around Mellie’s search for her son that I had no time to fret over my pending divorce. Until we pulled up to the house in Atlanta. Thallie, dolled up in pigtails and red ribbons and a new frock to match, comes running to the front door: “Mommy, Mommy, guess what? Daddy’s here. Come see what he brought me.”
Our suitcases abandoned unceremoniously in the foyer, she drags me into the living room, where David is comfortably ensconced on the sofa next to Father, deep in conversation, both smoking one of those awful cubanos they’re determined to die of.
My husband scrambles to his feet as Mellie and I approach, both of us drained, though my sister, naturally, still appears freshly made up and is wearing yet another of her too revealing sundresses. So will she be attired in heaven.
Even so, David only fleetingly acknowledges her as he bounds up to me and plants a kiss on my unsuspecting lips. I blush, imagining in the circumstances what’s running through Mother’s mind. To wit: How could I think of divorcing such a considerate man, a busy criminal lawyer no less, who arrives with a gift for each and every one of us and who spontaneously kisses his wife, even if she hasn’t fixed her face for 24 hours.
To make it worse, Thallie, clutching a brand new book with a mouse on the cover, tugs at her father’s sleeve and demands he come to the parlor to hear her play the tune Grandma has been teaching her. Unable to deny his child, David throws up his arms and follows her out of the room and to the Steinway.
While Thallie bangs out a recognizable version of a Bach minuet, with David apparently supplying the left hand part, Mother pours Mellie and me a glass of what looks to be expensive Burgundy. “I’m sure you’re both tired after your trip, so you can relax with this. It’s delicious and quite light. So thoughtful of your husband, Callie.”