House Lights, by Leah Hager Cohen
(New York: W. W. Norton, 2007)Summary:
"A poignant novel about how secrets threaten the stability of a family. Late in her twentieth year, Beatrice mails a letter on the sly, sparking events that will change her life forever. The addressee is her grandmother, a legendary stage actress long estranged from her daughter, Bea's mother. Though Bea wants to become an actress herself, it is the desire to understand the old family rift that drives her to work her way into her grandmother's graces. But just as she establishes a precarious foothold in her grandmother's world, Bea's elite Boston home life begins to crumble. Her beloved father is accused of harassment by one of his graduate students; her usually composed mother shows vulnerabilities and doubt. And Bea is falling in love with someone many would consider inappropriate. Powerfully written and psychologically complex, House Lights illuminates the corrosive power of family secrets, and the redemptive struggle to find truth, forgiveness, and love."
"Near the end of the time that I still thought the world of him, my father and I took a walk along Memorial Drive."
Interesting book to read in Boston, as the author's attractive but slightly ramshackle childhood home in Cambridge and her grandmother's museum-perfect Beacon Hill residence are very much characters in themselves. A more thorough review (Kathryn Harrison's from The New York Times) is here, but my own quick opinion: The story of Beatrice's family falling apart as she grows up and flees the nest at the same time it becomes impossible to ignore her father's history of sexual misconduct is gentle, compelling, and heartbreaking. The thread that follows her desire to be an actress and sudden habit of spending every spare moment at her practically-a-stranger grandmother is less so, at least for me.