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A Family Daughter: A Novelby Maile Meloy
Synopses & Reviews
From the award-winning author of Half in Love and Liars and Saints, a riveting story of love, sex, secrets, guilt, and forgiveness.
Maile Meloy's debut novel, Liars and Saints, captured the hearts of readers and critics alike. Now Meloy returns with a novel even more dazzling and unexpected than her first. Brilliantly entertaining, A Family Daughter might also be the most insightful novel about families and love that you will read this year.
It's 1979, and seven-year-old Abby, the youngest member of the close-knit Santerre family, is trapped indoors with the chicken pox during a heat wave. The events set in motion that summer will span decades and continents, change the Santerres forever, and surprise and amaze anyone who loved Meloy's Liars and Saints.
A rich, full novel about passion and desire, fear and betrayal, A Family Daughter illuminates both the joys and complications of contemporary life, and the relationship between truth and fiction. For everyone who has yet to meet the Santerres, an unmatched pleasure awaits.
"In evanescent scenes distinguished by clean, wry prose, Meloy observes the Santerre family, whom readers met in 2003's Liars and Saints, from a crafty new angle. The book opens as the deeply Catholic Yvette Santerre frets over her granddaughter, Abby, who has the chicken pox and has been deposited in Yvette's care while her mother, Clarissa, tries to remember what it's like to feel happy. Yvette and Teddy's eldest daughter, Margot, is repressed by her own Catholicism and veering into adultery; Clarissa thinks of her husband, Henry, and daughter, Abby, as 'captors' keeping her from realizing her true potential; and happy-go-lucky son Jamie has little ambition beyond his next girlfriend. With Abby at the story's center, the narrative moves forward years in effortless leaps, revealing the secrets and dissatisfactions of all. From Abby's rocky childhood to her bruising young adulthood (her parents divorce; her father is killed in a car accident), she finds solace with Jamie, 12 years her senior. When Abby is 21, uncle and niece fall into an affair, until Jamie is lured away by the bored, rich, chronically unfaithful Saffron, who suffers her own difficult mother crisis in Argentina. Clarissa takes up with a lesbian and confronts her mother with recovered memories; Jamie becomes convinced he's actually Margot's daughter; and dreamy, conflicted Abby writes a roman à clef (Liars and Saints!) about them all. Meloy shifts point of view fluently, and though her characters weather all sorts of melodrama, the novel itself feels light — poignant and affecting, meaningful yet somehow weightless." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In her first novel, 'Liars and Saints,' Maile Meloy stripped her language to the bone — but that is not to say that she established herself as a minimalist. In both 'Liars and Saints' and this new novel, 'A Family Daughter,' she goes after the big picture and uses her broad and simple strokes to depict as many lives as she can crowd into her line of vision. Both novels tell the interlocking stories... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) of four generations of the Santerre family, Californians of French Canadian descent. In short, intense chapters, Meloy takes the perspective of one character, then another. She plows through decades as if time's a-wasting, and her plots are full of shockers that she somehow manages to convince a reader are not all that shocking. In 'Liars and Saints,' the action includes incest, murder and the matriarch's claim that she is the mother of her grandchild. But if 'Liars and Saints' is the work of a stark realist, 'A Family Daughter' is something else again. Comparisons of first and second novels are especially odious, but there's no way around it here, since this second novel is a retelling of the first. And what a retelling it is. In the first novel, Jamie Santerre had an affair with his niece (who turned out to be his cousin). In this new version, Abby once again has an affair with her uncle, only this time he really is her uncle, and Abby is a novelist writing 'Liars and Saints' — yes, the first novel — out of guilt and compulsion. (Her exploration of Catholicism's cultural impact on succeeding generations is more developed in this second telling of the Santerres' story.) Many of the details about her family are the same, and many are changed: Abby's aunt is no longer childless, her grandmother is not murdered, and she herself does not die of cancer after giving birth to Jamie's child. The new book, then, is what most of us would call postmodern: It acknowledges the artifice of its own construction and asks a reader to decide what's so realistic about realism in the first place. (Abby also points out that novelists were up to these tricks long before we came up with the term 'postmodern.') The second version of Abby's story also teases readers about our voracious need to identify autobiography in fiction — at least, it seems teasing at first. Later, as Abby's affair with her uncle begins to cause her real psychological harm, it becomes downright melancholy. A reader can't help but wonder how close the connection is between Abby Santerre the writer and Maile Meloy the writer. The novel strikes a number of different tones on its way to deciding what voice it will project. Its opening has a good deal of fun upending the first novel, and the reader has some fun, too, with the challenge. One of the perhaps inevitable results of a more conceptual approach, though, is that we don't feel nearly as involved with the characters this time around. In 'Liars and Saints,' Meloy climbed right into Jamie's skin, and his actions, however impulsive and rash, seemed not only forgivable but almost inevitable. It's easier to dismiss the Jamie of 'A Family Daughter,' or to laugh at him. When he takes up with a beautiful rich blonde named (no kidding) Saffron, the novel seems intent on satire; but when Saffron heads to Argentina to stay with her fabulously self-centered mother, Josephine, it's not clear whether we're in the realm of farce, soap opera or pure absurdity. Josephine has adopted a child born to a Hungarian prostitute but passes him off as a Romanian orphan, and the ensuing global complications are both glitzy and bizarre. But in Abby's guilty, confessional sessions with an eminently sensible psychologist, the tone is so far from comedic that a reader can't be blamed for feeling disoriented. The second half of the novel finally settles into a voice much more reminiscent of 'Liars and Saints,' and literary allusions fade away in favor of that old standby, realism. Though the tone of 'A Family Daughter' wobbles at first, it's nonetheless delightful to observe an intelligent writer move beyond the formal limitations she set for herself the first time around. (And it must be mentioned that she also has removed the limitations to her sex scenes, which here are far more erotic and extended.) It's hard to say what effect the second novel will have on a reader who hasn't read the first, but Meloy's writing is certainly fast-moving and compelling, sometimes in the manner of a smart contemporary observer and sometimes in the manner of a smart gossip columnist. Meloy is stretching, intellectually and artistically, and watching her take risks is often a pleasure. 'A Family Daughter' is not always consistent and not always convincing, but it is ambitious and playful and clever. That's a fair enough literary bargain for any novel, retold or not." Reviewed by Valerie Sayers, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A] dazzling second novel....Riveting and engrossing, Meloy's tale of a family struggling with guilt and forgiveness spans decades and crosses continents, proving her status as one of the best literary observers of contemporary American life." Booklist (Starred Review)
"A thoroughly original, undeniably brilliant companion piece to Liars and Saints. Each stands alone; together they pack a seismic wallop." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[A] big book as well as a swift, slender, graceful one. And if the speed and gloss of Ms. Meloy's first novel suggested that she might be better suited to short stories, this new book has the deep ramifications of more ambitious fiction." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"[Meloy] pads the sequel with soapy subplots and an ever-expanding web of random new characters....She may have rigged up a mighty clever postmodern game, but she's written a mediocre sudsy melodrama. (Grade: B-)" Entertainment Weekly
"[A] seductive, absorbing read. With ease and fluidity, Meloy gracefully pirouettes from...narrative summary to slice-of-life vignettes that provide scope and immediacy. The tone is by turns wry, ironic, affectionate — and consistently engaging." Philadelphia Inquirer
"Meloy is stretching, intellectually and artistically, and watching her take risks is often a pleasure. A Family Daughter is not always consistent and not always convincing, but it is ambitious and playful and clever. That's a fair enough literary bargain for any novel." Washington Post
"While some characters get a little too much time on the page...one senses that once Meloy harnesses the focus that has made her such a brilliant short-story writer, she will be just as brilliant a novelist." San Francisco Chronicle
"The true miracle of A Family Daughter is that it successfully borrows metafictional technique...to tell a straightforward humanist story." Portland Oregonian
"Meloy is observant, cogent and a pitiless profiler of how entwined yet estranged blood relations can be. In short chapters and crisp, exacting prose, she keeps tab on parallel fates." Seattle Times
"Sex, bad behavior and a family that always comes together in the end." Cleveland Plain Dealer
About the Author
Maile Meloy is the author of the story collection Half in Love and the novel Liars and Saints, which was shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize. Meloy's stories have been published in the New Yorker, and she has received the Paris Review's Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in California.
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