They're back. Like a traveling circus whose painted trucks and trailers demand that we look, the Santerre family whom author Maile Meloy called both liars and saints in her first novel compels us to watch as their story unfolds . . . again. In this intriguing tale, we're given clues to life's largest riddles about the meaning of faith, the strength of family ties and the hope of real and lasting love.
It's 1979, and seven-year-old Abby has the chicken pox. When her grandmother enlists Abby's uncle to help entertain the bored and restless child, events are set in motion that will span decades, touch every member of the family and ultimately challenge the deceit that has lain at the heart of it. And even as she comes to terms with her elders' notions of love and happiness, Abby must find a way to make her own.
Meloy is an exquisite writer: each chapter is practically a short story in itself, spare, elegant, perfectly composed (no surprise to readers of her critically acclaimed collection of short stories, Half in Love). A master of understatement, she speaks volumes with a single sentence, and never insults our intelligence with needless explanations; she knows we're paying attention. In fact, we're riveted.
One needn't have read Liars and Saints to enjoy A Family Daughter (I hadn't); it's a beautiful book that I couldn't put down at first and then rationed as I grew close to the end. But there are circles within circles here. The first book presents a family desperate to preserve the appearance of happiness, even as each member struggles privately with sorrow. A Family Daughter re-imagines the earlier story, as Abby begins to write a novel, trying to understand her complicated family ties. What at first appears to be a minor side story in the Santerre saga gradually reveals a paradox central to the story at large: when every family member lives in his own fiction, what is the truth? Jamie Chavez is a writer and editor who lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.