Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant's latest novel, Far From the Tree, is about three difficult women in the Frazier family: the proud Della and her daughters, Celeste and Ronnie, who find themselves, to their dismay, breathing the same air in the same house when they gather for the funeral of the family patriarch.
The title of the book is appropriate, since both sisters are as stubborn and unforthcoming as their mother, a woman whose tightlipped grief over her husband's death is made worse when she discovers that her daughters have inherited a house in North Carolina that Della long ago signed over to her late husband. Della doesn't want to think of this house ever again, and she considers disinheriting her daughters for wanting to go down South to check the place out. As the novel proceeds, we learn the reasons behind Della's rage and witness the slow unfolding of the terrible memories the house holds for her.
On the way, the reader is treated to keenly drawn characters, including the three Frazier women and the people around them. Celeste, control freak and social climber, is a high school counselor known for the insight and compassion she gives to her students but withholds from her long suffering husband, college-age daughter, and her mother. Ronnie is a bitter, failed model whose moment of glory was on a billboard nearly two decades earlier. The authors give a remarkably adept description of Ronnie's sad, struggling life in New York. Their portrayal of cramped, dingy, overpriced apartments, crazy or dangerous roommates, and the near-panic of a model whose looks are fading and who is always a paycheck away from eviction are realistic enough to make the reader cringe.
The three women treat each other with an almost reflexive incivility that makes the reader want to line them up against a wall and smack them, another mark of the authors' skills. We even wonder how the recently deceased Will Frazier, who seemed a bumbling, gentle, and responsible man, put up with them. At the end, the women learn better, but their evolution is gradual and incomplete. That two authors could have put together such a seamless work is intriguing in itself. Far From The Tree is a convincing look at realistic flawed characters.
Arlene McKanic writes from Jamaica, New York.