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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Book talk: "A Family Daughter," by Maile Meloy

**Hey, it's my first official guest post! Today's post in the "In Praise of Book Clubs" series at Books on the Brain is my contribution - please go check it out, and spend some time over there if you haven't visited before. You'll find some great book-club resources, book reviews, and lots more. Thanks to Lisa for the opportunity!**

And now for today's feature:

A Family Daughter: A Novel by Maile Meloy

A Family Daughter
Maile Meloy
Scribner, 2007 (paperback) (ISBN 0743277678 / 9780743277679)
Fiction, 336 pages

If you have reviewed this book, please leave the link in a comment or e-mail it to me at 3.rsblog AT gmail DOT com, and I'll edit this review to include it!

First Sentence: In the summer of 1979, just when Yvette Santerre thought her children were all safely launched and out of the house, her granddaughter came to stay in Hermosa Beach and came down with a fever, and then a rash.

Book Description:
From Publishers Weekly -

In evanescent scenes distinguished by clean, wry prose, Meloy observes the Santerre family, whom readers met in 2003's Liars and Saints, from a crafty new angle. The book opens as the deeply Catholic Yvette Santerre frets over her granddaughter, Abby, who has the chicken pox and has been deposited in Yvette's care while her mother, Clarissa, tries to remember what it's like to feel happy. Yvette and Teddy's eldest daughter, Margot, is repressed by her own Catholicism and veering into adultery; Clarissa thinks of her husband, Henry, and daughter, Abby, as "captors" keeping her from realizing her true potential; and happy-go-lucky son Jamie has little ambition beyond his next girlfriend. With Abby at the story's center, the narrative moves forward years in effortless leaps, revealing the secrets and dissatisfactions of all. From Abby's rocky childhood to her bruising young adulthood (her parents divorce; her father is killed in a car accident), she finds solace with Jamie, 12 years her senior. When Abby is 21, uncle and niece fall into an affair, until Jamie is lured away by the bored, rich, chronically unfaithful Saffron, who suffers her own difficult mother crisis in Argentina. Clarissa takes up with a lesbian and confronts her mother with recovered memories; Jamie becomes convinced he's actually Margot's son; and dreamy, conflicted Abby writes a roman à clef (Liars and Saints!) about them all. Meloy shifts point of view fluently, and though her characters weather all sorts of melodrama, the novel itself feels light—poignant and affecting, meaningful yet somehow weightless.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved

Comments: The book description above tells you nearly everything you need to know about what happens n A Family Daughter. There are actually quite a few daughters who figure prominently in the story: Santerre family matriarch Yvette's daughters Margot and Clarissa, daughters-in-law Saffron and Katya, and especially Clarissa's daughter Abby, who is at the center of it all. The Santerre women were introduced in Maile Meloy's earlier novel, Liars and Saints, and the basic framework for this story was laid out there as well. However, I don't think it's required to read the earlier novel before this one, since A Family Daughter's perspective is different. In some ways, the two books taken together remind my of Mona Simpson's approach to the family in Anywhere but Here and The Lost Father - companion pieces as opposed to a series. Reading them in order is helpful, but not strictly necessary to understanding the characters' history, because this book isn't primarily about what happens.

I read Liars and Saints during my spring vacation last year, and was absolutely sucked into it - so much so that I didn't want to read the follow-up right away. I needed some distance. However, I may have waited a little too long; I didn't like A Family Daughter quite as much as I wanted to, or expected to. I think Meloy may have spread her story a little thin this time, spending too much time with some characters and not enough with others. I felt more distant from the Santerres this time around, but maybe my expectations were just a bit too high.

Meloy has a spare writing style that I find appealing, and while I think she draws characters very well, I felt that she could have filled them in a little more in this book. However, I still found the characters and their story emotionally affecting. There's a lot of personal drama that would verge on soap-operatic in some other authors' hands, but Meloy is good at portraying drama with minimal melodrama. A Family Daughter has enough plot to make it a fast and involving read, with enough emotional resonance to make it memorable. However, if you decide to read both books, you might not want to take as much time between them as I did.

Rating: 3.75/5

9 comments:

  1. Hey! Thanks for the shout out! Your post is great.

    The title and cover of A Family Daughter would definitely catch my eye, but knowing now that it's the 2nd book in a series would probably prevent me from picking it up.

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  2. LisaMM - It's not exactly a series, and I'm not sure you'd have to read Liars and Saints first...but it might help in keeping the characters sorted out.

    And thank you again for the opportunity to guest post - my stat counter is already showing me some new visitors via your blog!

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  3. Oh, cool! I'm glad some people found their way over here.. I'm sure they'll stick around! It's a great blog!

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  4. LisaMM - Thank you so much for the compliment, and I think the same thing about your blog!

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  5. It sounds like this book has quite a bit going on. I've been curious about Liars and Saints, having seen reviews of it here ad there.

    I sometimes find that the distance I put between books can make a difference too. There is such a think as too soon--and like you found, too far apart. :-)

    I'm on my way over to read your guest blog post!

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  6. I just read your guest post. It sounds like you have a really good group. I belonged to a couple of book groups for a short time when we lived in Cambridge and it was fun to discuss the books together. Now it's back to online only.
    I remember hearing a lot about Liars and Saints when it came out but never did read it. Someday...

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  7. I would definitely recommend Liars and Saints. I would also recommend A Family Daughter - just read it sooner :-)! The characters are worth knowing.

    Literary Feline - Thanks for the comment you left on my guest post! And yes, the time between related books can make a difference. Sometimes it's better to read them together, before the initial ardor fades...and sometimes it's better to have a reunion after some time has passed.

    Tanabata - I actually haven't tried an online book group. Maybe I'll give that a shot next. My off-line group does work pretty well, though.

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  8. Although I enjoyed A Family Daughter, I wasn't happy with what Meloy did with the family, especially since I liked them in Liars and Saints and this book turned all that upside down.

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  9. Anna - That's pretty close to my take on it as well.

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