Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Published April 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Maggie, Eliza, and Tricia Sweeney grew up as a happy threesome in the idyllic seaside town of Southport, Connecticut. But their mother’s death from cancer fifteen years ago tarnished their golden-hued memories, and the sisters drifted apart. Their one touchstone is their father, Bill Sweeney, an internationally famous literary lion and college professor universally adored by critics, publishers, and book lovers. When Bill dies unexpectedly one cool June night, his shell-shocked daughters return to their childhood home. They aren’t quite sure what the future holds without their larger-than-life father, but they do know how to throw an Irish wake to honor a man of his stature.
But as guests pay their respects and reminisce, one stranger, emboldened by whiskey, has crashed the party. It turns out that she too is a Sweeney sister.
When Washington, DC based journalist Serena Tucker had her DNA tested on a whim a few weeks earlier, she learned she had a 50% genetic match with a childhood neighbor—Maggie Sweeney of Southport, Connecticut. It seems Serena’s chilly WASP mother, Birdie, had a history with Bill Sweeney—one that has remained totally secret until now.
Once the shock wears off, questions abound. What does this mean for William’s literary legacy? Where is the unfinished memoir he’s stashed away, and what will it reveal? And how will a fourth Sweeney sister—a blond among redheads—fit into their story?
I "met" Dolan when she was writing the blog, The Chaos Chronicles and podcast by the same name. When I first started following her, she was working on her first novel, Helen of Pasadena. Having read that, and her second book, Elizabeth, the First Wife, I thought I felt sure I knew what I was getting with this book. Turns out I was only partly right.
Like Dolan's first two books, the writing is smart, it's filled with smart women, and the setting is integral to the story. This one, though, is the grown up version of those two, which bordered on chick-lit (albeit, really smart chick-lit with depth). It's less about the humor and finding love (although there is that, as well) and more about the relationships between the sisters and the relationships they had with their parents. The sisters, including the sister the Sweeney girls never knew they had, are all as different as they can be but Dolan makes it clear that even so, sisters have bonds that can't be broken. Just as in real life, each of the sisters has had their role to play in the family. But, as they deal with the death of their father (and face the fact that he wasn't necessarily the man they'd grown up idolizing), each of them grows and changes and finds their true place.
It's not the book I was expect, exactly. Less funny, less light. I didn't know exactly how it would end but I knew that these characters would land in a good place. Dolan gave me exactly what I needed right now. Depth, characters I cared about, and a family who loved and support each other.