In Dennis McFarland's earlier novels, including his well-received debut, The Music Room (1990), and the acclaimed Prince Edward (2004), he displayed a remarkable finesse for creating scenes of family dynamics that ring uncannily true. His latest novel, Letter from Point Clear, continues in that vein a tale of three children from a wealthy family in Point Clear, Alabama, McFarland's native state. As soon as they were of age, siblings Ellen, Morris and Bonnie left Point Clear and headed north, away from life with their alcoholic father. Ellen, the oldest, is a poet, and she and her husband and son live near Boston. They have a summer house on the Cape, and joining them there for a weekend are Morris and Richard, his partner of many years. Baby sister Bonnie, who had a minor acting career in New York, remained in Point Clear for several months following their father's funeral, ostensibly tying up loose ends.

But then an unexpected letter from Bonnie arrives. She has married an evangelical preacher 10 years her junior, and they are living in the family mansion, their gardens tended by the family gardeners, their meals prepared by the family maid who has lived behind the house for decades.

Morris and Ellen are miffed at not being invited to Bonnie's wedding, and they are more than slightly curious about her new husband, Pastor Vandorpe. Fearing he's a fortune hunter, they set off to investigate. When they arrive, McFarland's saga takes off, as old and new family members, including Pastor's parents, struggle with issues of guilt, the equitable division of family property and Pastor's negative feelings about Morris' sexual orientation, which cast a pall over everything and are brought to a head during a disastrous dinner where one of the invitees is a former homosexual saved by Pastor.

McFarland perceptively delves into familial and marital relationships with rare empathy, and injects humor into even the most awkward situations. This is a splendid read for a family vacation, especially one peopled by a few quirky characters.

Deborah Donovan writes from Cincinnati and La Veta, Colorado.

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