This book came to my attention as Rebecca Schinsky from Book Riot described it “as feminist as fuck” on Litsy. (If you are not on Litsy, you need to ask yourself some serious questions about what you’re doing with your life. Please rectify immediately.)
Edgar and Fern are happily married with three children, living a life of comfort thanks to Fern’s moneyed parents. This grinds to a sudden stop when Fern is told that the money from her parent’s estate is gone. Someone is going to have to start working to keep the family in its lifestyle and, as was customary in the time (the 70’s) and the class (white and upper class) that someone should be Edgar.
Unfortunately Edgar is the worst socialist ever to walk the earth. He has high and mighty ideals about money and its role in the world, but manages to ignore the fact that his luxurious and rarefied lifestyle is thanks to the money earned by first his father, and then from his wife’s inheritance. Edgar throws a tantrum at his wife’s expectation which takes the form of him engaging in an affair and leaving on an adventure without telling Fern.
Fern is also tempted away on an adventure without telling Edgar. This leaves the three children finding themselves suddenly abandoned and fending for themselves, discovering that the childhood dream of having no parents around isn’t as great as the reality.
This book is beautifully and lyrically written, with plenty of examination of women’s roles as wife and mother and the expectations placed on them. Women of this class and era had no real choice but to be wives and mothers – there was no market for any other role and to find yourself outside these roles was to be a scandal, which simply wasn’t done.
I particularly enjoyed the rendering of Fern’s mother, who chose her husband not because she loved him, but because he was the least likely to interfere in her life. Evelyn had her own things that she wanted to do, but as a woman, she was expected to not do them in favour of her wifely and motherly duties. She was not a good mother, or a good wife, and she knew this and made no apology for either.
Edgar on the other hand is a prize winning dick, and I could cheerfully have slapped him multiple times throughout the book. I’ve read a few reviews which indicate that he “redeems” himself at the end. I’m don’t think he does, although he does start to realise that he has been a dick, even though I think the reason for that realisation is for the wrong one.
The theme of this book is the good old “money can’t buy you happiness, and family is everything” with a coda of “unless your family sucks, in which case you’re screwed”.
This is a delightful, summery read with magic on every page.
5 out of 5 beach houses.