The Children by Ann Leary

Whit Whitman was an eccentric to family and friends alike.  The heir of a large fortune, the-childrenWhit “retired” early on to pursue hobbies and enjoy the company of Joan, his second wife, and stepdaughters.  When he dies of cancer in his mid sixties, Whit leaves a considerable trust to his widow.  Although the Connecticut lake house that they lived in belongs to his sons from his first marriage, it is stated in the trust that Joan can stay there until she passes away.

And so Joan remains there, along with Charlotte, her youngest daughter, now in her late twenties, who disdains the outer world for the comforting sprawl of the lake house and its property.  Sally, the bipolar older daughter, resides mainly in New York City, but visits fairly often.  The three bicker when they’re together but generally get along.

Mother and daughters come together somewhat when the younger of Whit’s sons announces his engagement.

Spin is the golden boy of the family – decent, kind-hearted, smart.  His fiancée Laurel is everything that the sisters are not – outgoing, glamorous, and overachieving to a fault.  In other words, she’s a little too perfect, even for their beloved stepbrother, though he apparently adores Laurel.

The sisters, snoops to the point of perfection, begin to figure that Laurel is more sinister than she lets on, and enough things happen during the family’s annual July 4th party to ratchet up their suspicions.  It would seem, in the aftermath, that their ramshackle home is no longer an easy haven.

Mix in flings with the estate caretaker and a series of burglaries attributed to “Mr. Clean” and you have a great family soap opera, well-written and catty as hell.  The dynamics of this crazy mixed family are enough to keep you flipping pages, or as I did, flipping backwards at times, just to piece together some missing hidden gems.

The plot idea isn’t new (interloper invades tight-knit yet dysfunctional family) but in The Children, the author puts it together into something fresh, funny, and shocking.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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