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. Copyright 2006 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2005 November #1
A thoroughly original and undeniably brilliant companion piece to Meloy's debut novel, Saints and Liars (2003).Meloy returns to the Senterres, the Catholic California family full of piety, passion and secrets at the center of the earlier novel. This go-'round, the family's passion and piety remain in place, but the secrets, and facts, have changed. The central character is now Yvette and Teddy Senterre's granddaughter Abby. When Abby is barely seven, her self-centered, irresponsible mother Clarissa leaves Abby and Abby's loving father Henry. Abby develops a crush on Uncle Jamie, Clarissa's charming, much younger brother. After Henry dies unexpectedly while in college, Abby falls apart emotionally. She and Jamie, a semi-ne'er-do-well, have a brief incestuous affair. Afterwards, Jamie takes up with Saffron, a neurotic heiress with commitment issues. Abby becomes involved with a teaching assistant, Peter, and begins writing a novel. Meanwhile, she accompanies Jamie and Saffron to Argentina, where Saffron's mother has adopted a Romanian orphan, T.J. When Saffron's mother dies, T.J. turns out to have a mother still very much alive. Jamie then adopts T.J., marries his mother and brings them to California, and when T.J.'s mother disappears for good, Jamie becomes a devoted single father. Abby moves back with Peter and publishes a highly autobiographical novel. Because Abby has changed crucial factual information about who did what to whom, the Santerres tell themselves she has not exposed their secrets, but the book forces them to face deeper truths. Meloy juxtaposes Abby's fictionalized account (Liars and Saints, described in enough detail for readers who have not read it) with the "reality" of this novel.And each novel stands alone; together they pack a seismic wallop. Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2005 October #1
Meloy brings back the Santerres from her successful Liars and Saints and then transports them to Argentina, where they meet some singular folks, from a wild rich girl to a fading playboy. With a four-city tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2006 January #1
Fans of Meloy's previous novel, Liars and Saints , will be delighted with her latest effort. Meloy returns to the Santerre family, this time focusing on "family daughter" Abby and her emotional relationship with her uncle (or is it cousin?) Jamie. The novel moves from Abby's undergraduate days at the University of California, San Diego, where she grapples with her father's death, to Jamie's liaison with a Paris Hilton-like girlfriend, Saffron. Both Jamie and Abby accompany Saffron on a visit to her socialite mother, Josephine, who has retired to an estate in Argentina. There we meet Josephine's French business manager/lover and Katya, a Hungarian hooker and the mother of Josephine's adopted child. And that's just the beginning. An accomplished storyteller, Meloy weaves together these improbable twists without edging into silliness. She even toys with "reality" when Abby writes and publishes a novel that turns out to be Liars and Saints . This new work is enjoyable on its own, but those who have read Meloy's earlier effort can puzzle whether this book is a sequel or a revision. Highly recommended for popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/05.]--Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA[Page 100]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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 Ã ; 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. (Feb.)[Page 23]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.