About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

#70 - The Family Tree

Somewhat appropriately, I read Carole Cadwalladr's The Family Tree (Plume, 2005) on a slightly-overwhelming vacation with my own extended family. This will be a quickie review (again, I'm trying to catch up on my blogging backlog), but I enjoyed it very much. Set in Britain in the late 20th century, it's the story of three generations of one family, and how our relationships as mother, daughter, sister, wife, and grandchild shape who we are. The narrator, Rebecca Monroe, is in her early 30s as the turn of the millenium approaches, happily married to geneticist Alistair, and childless by mutual agreement (though Alistair seems to agree a bit more emphatically than does Rebecca). The novel tells her story, from childhood on up through the present ... but it's also the story of her mother, Doreen, and her grandmother, Alicia.

We know from the get-go (it's printed on the back cover) that "on the day Lady Diana married Prince Charles, Rebecca's mother locked herself in the bathroom of 24 Beech Drive and never came out" -- but we don't know for quite some time exactly what happened or what led up to that point. Signs of Doreen's voilatility are evident from the outset, though, as is the seeming unlikelihood of two marriages: Doreen's to James, Rebecca's father; and her sister Suzanne's to Kenneth, Doreen's old beau. As the novel unfolds, Rebecca also learns more of her grandmother Alicia's life story (Alicia has Alzheimer's, and is terrified of losing her memories before she can pass them on) -- grandfather Herbert's patient and (frankly) creepy stalking of his young cousin Alicia, Alicia's own secret heartbreak as a young woman, and how she eventually succumbed to Herb's persistence. The story is a bit jumpy and disjointed in places, but honestly, that's how family stories often play out. A good vacation read.

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