Patricia Gaffney has done it again. In The Saving Graces, she wove characters so real you felt a part of their friendships. Now, in Circle of Three, she spins a tale about a family so genuine you will swear you know them.

Like her first novel, Circle of Three has women at its center: a grandmother, Dana; a mother, Carrie; and a daughter, Ruth. Gaffney has the women take turns telling their stories so that, chapter by chapter, the threads of their lives braid into a multi-leveled plot.

Each woman is struggling with the constraints of her generation. Dana, facing the physical frailties that come with growing old, has fought to build an illusion of the life she would like and is afraid it will somehow evaporate. Carrie, adapting to the death of a husband she did not love, is 42 and reestablishing a relationship with Jesse, a man she has loved since high school. Ruth, in the midst of teenage angst, decides the way to grow up and retaliate against her mother for being with Jesse so soon into widowhood is to get a tattoo. Each character will remind you of someone you know, someone quirky and likable, but annoying. There are men in the lives of each woman, though all but one are more observers than doers. Dana's George barely speaks and is content to go outside and smoke in solitude. Raven, Ruth's boyfriend, dresses like a vampire and ignores Ruth after a make-out session in the graveyard. Even Carrie's dead husband Steve is notable only in his dying. It is Jesse who takes action, and it is because of Jesse that the circle of three is stretched almost to the breaking point.

It is in the pushing and pulling of each generation against the others that they are tied even more tightly together. The commitment they feel for each other is as much a part of them as the genes they share, and it is this commitment and shared history that provide the strength to move forward. It is also what will remind you why you continue to remain tied to your own family.

Jamie Whitfield writes from her homes in Tennessee and North Carolina.

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