As Katherine Hill’s polished debut novel opens, Abe and Cassandra Green have been married for more than 20 years. Their accomplished daughter, Elizabeth, is leaving for college. The family is taking an afternoon sail on Abe’s new boat, when, suddenly, Abe and Cassandra descend into a life-changing argument. Abe ends the fight by literally jumping ship, leaving his wounded daughter and wife to navigate home.
The Green marriage dissolves, Elizabeth moves east, and the author spends the remainder of the book deconstructing the history of Abe and Cassandra, beginning with their childhoods. Cassandra was the daughter of a mortician; Abe, the lone survivor after not one but both of his parents died sudden deaths. Cassandra and Abe met in San Francisco, where he was a young medical resident and she an aspiring sculptor. During their time together, Cassandra is never content. She flirts with infidelity; Abe is absorbed with residency, work, sailing—anything, Cassandra thinks, but her.
After the fateful sailing trip changes everything, Abe and Cassandra do not speak to or see one another for nearly a decade. Then, the unexpected death of Cassandra’s father brings the Green family together, giving Abe the chance to extend a peace offering to his wounded daughter and drifting wife.
Don’t look for heroes or a typical love story in The Violet Hour. Hill uses sophisticated prose to convey the tone and emotions of a 20-year marriage. The rise and fall of Abe and Cassandra is complicated and cruel, yet with her evocative writing, Hill—who has an MFA from Bennington College—leaves room for redemption. Fans of authors like Sue Miller and Elizabeth Strout should take notice.