4 out of 4 stars
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There is little that impacts our lives more than the home in which we grow up, and the family that surrounds us during our formative years. Eden: A Novel by Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg is the story of a large home set on the coast of Rhode Island, and of the different generations of the family that inhabits it.
At the head of the family is Becca, who has invited the rest of the clan to the Eden property for a long-overdue reunion, with the intention of revealing a long-buried family secret. At the same time, she faces a looming financial crisis, and must decide whether to sell the property or to enlist her brothers in taking on part of the debt. Adding pressure to the situation is a tense relationship with her daughter, Rachel, and her granddaughter’s unexpected pregnancy.
As the family gathers, the narrative flashes back to previous decades, giving the reader context for the personalities that emerge among its members. We come to learn the history of Eden, and why the home (and land surrounding it) mean so much to each of the branches of the family. When the big secret is revealed, certain events are set into motion that change the course of the family’s lives forever. Relationships are tested, bonds are formed and strengthened, and the fate of the oceanside property is sealed.
This story is rich with cozy and descriptive visuals, from the gorgeous coastline, to the delicate place-settings at Eden’s fancy dinners. The narrative is engaging throughout, and moves at a brisk and lively pace. The setting, as well as the characters, are nuanced and believable. One of my favorite elements of this story was that none of the people were entirely good, or entirely bad people. Rather, they were just human, with realistically complicated motives and inconsistent behaviors. The main characters, as well as the side-characters, were all multi-dimensional and memorable, and we continued to learn more about them right up to the end of the story.
Though the plot itself was not particularly groundbreaking - it was, at its core, simply a story of parents and their children - it was the vivid character development that set this story apart. As the narrative progressed, new layers of personality were revealed in each character, and new perspectives were presented on the situation facing the family. Even after the big reveal, when Becca confessed the secret she had been holding on to for decades, additional smaller reveals continued until the end. In short, this was an enjoyable and exciting family drama, one that I breezed through enthusiastically.
Other than one small error (a missing punctuation mark), I did not see any typos or mistakes. I cannot think of any other specific negatives to report, other than the potential that it may not be a story for a wide audience. Since this is a story of a wealthy family living in a big house, the types of issues the characters face are so-called “first-world problems” and some readers may find it hard to relate to them. At the same time, the author does an excellent job in reminding us that wealth does not alter the underlying humanity in all of us, and that we all have the same emotional core. This is a book for readers who enjoy character-driven narratives, family histories about interwoven lives, and stories that explore relationships between mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, and husbands and wives. I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars.
Eden: A Novel
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