This opening scene is rich in literary allusions. The Motherless Child Hiding in the Curtains is from “Jane Eyre”. Children watching adults from the top of the stairs are reminded of Henry James’ What Maisie Knew. And any tight, impenetrable bond between siblings will always invoke “The Screwdriver,” which Maeve keeps on her nightstand. Later, we see her reading “Housekeeping”, Marilynne Robinson’s novel about two siblings abandoned by their mother.
Patchett’s prose is confident, unfussy, and unadorned. I can’t extract a phrase worth quoting, but how effective they are when woven together – those translucent lines that wrap around you like a spider’s web. It may seem old-fashioned: his style, his attachment to a very traditional storytelling – a vision of the novel like a Dutch house, with a clarity and transparency of purpose and method, a rejection of narrative cunning. But like the Dutch family house, it is a perennial structure, which gives an extra dimension to the references in the text – its way of making a gesture towards a lineage.
Another lineage runs through the book: the theme that unites Patchett’s fiction and non-fiction. “Mothers were the measure of safety,” Danny thinks, grateful for Maeve’s protection after her mother’s disappearance. “Home, bed, sleep, mother – who knew better words than these?” Patchett wrote in his 2007 book “Run”. “Don’t have a baby,” she describes pleading with her grandmother in an essay on how to care for her in her later years. “What she meant was that she was my baby and I didn’t need another one.” In “Truth and Beauty,” Patchett’s memoir of her friendship with poet Lucy Grealy, she writes about Grealy’s claim on her. “Do you love me?” Grealy asked him, climbing onto his knees, even in the middle of dinners, begging to be held and carried. “Of course I love you,” Patchett would reply. “Better?” “Yeah, better, but you’re crushing my thigh.”
Our willingness to serve each other represents the best of us, according to Patchett, and it’s almost as if she wants to take the notion of motherhood and unleash her power in the commons – and if we are ready for us. feed each other, mothers of strangers? But she’s also always full of warnings about the self-sacrifice it demands, especially from women – and never more clearly than in this new novel.
When Danny gets married, it is with a brilliant woman for whom renunciation comes easily. “Celeste was very happy around this time, although in retrospect she was the ultimate victim of bad timing, believing that because she was good at chemistry, she should marry a doctor instead of becoming a doctor herself. If she had arrived a few years later, she might have missed this trap altogether. Meanwhile, Maeve, a brilliant student in her youth – winner of a math medal at Barnard – leads a tight life, returning home. , working as an accountant, remaining single and available to take care of his brother until adulthood.
“The love between humans is the thing that nails us to this earth,” Patchett wrote in his memoir “It’s the story of a happy marriage” – a belief his new novel shares but nuances with caution. There is no shortage of the declaration’s brutal and brilliant ambivalence.