“Raised in a crumbling New England mansion by four women with personalities as split as a cracked mirror, young Francis Grayson has an obsessive need to fix them all. There’s his mother, distant and beautiful Magdalene; his disfigured, suffocating Aunt Stella; his odious grandmother; and the bane of his existence, his abusive and delusional Aunt Lothian.
For years, Francis plays a tricky game of duck and cover with the women, turning to music to stay sane. He finds a friend and mentor in Aidan Madsen, schoolmaster, local Revolutionary War historian, musician and keeper of the Grayson women’s darkest secrets. In a skillful move by Fullbright, those secrets are revealed through the viewpoints of three different people–Aidan, Francis and Francis’stepdaughter, Elyse–adding layers of eloquent complexity to a story as powerful as it is troubling.
While Francis realizes his dream of forming his own big band in the 1940s, his success is tempered by the inner monster of his childhood, one that roars to life when he marries Elyse’s mother. Elyse becomes her stepfather’s favorite target, and her bitterness becomes entwined with a desire to know the real Francis Grayson.
For Aidan’s part, his involvement with the Grayson family only deepens, and secrets carried for a lifetime begin to coalesce as he seeks to enlighten Francis–and subsequently Elyse–of why the events of so many years ago matter now. The ugliness of deceit, betrayal and resentment permeates the narrative, yet there are shining moments of hope, especially in the relationship between Elyse and her grandfather.
Ultimately, as more of the past filters into the present, the question becomes: What is the truth, and whose version of the truth is correct? Fullbright never untangles this conundrum, and it only adds to the richness of this exemplary novel.”—Kirkus Reviews
IT IS SAID that love is comfort, and that comfort comes from
recognition of the beloved. Papa was the first to tell me this, and if
it’s even a little bit true, then I took my comfort for granted, not
realizing that one can’t truly appreciate the beloved until one yearns
for the comfort to be returned. Even now, when I can’t sleep at
night, when I can’t slow the speeding of my heart, when I can’t stop
the replaying of what-if’s in my head, I take myself back to that place
where cabbage roses dance on walls and my beloved reigns supreme;
where I am queen of his heart and he is my comfort, and then and
only then do I feel safe.
You’d think it would be enough, being able to conjure up at least
a measure of my old, first love. Yet for a long while it wasn’t. Because
I was incapable of stanching the nagging questions about my second,
almost greater love. Questioning why Francis hadn’t seen the truth of
it like Papa had; that the streak I’d struggled with hadn’t been born of
badness; that badness wasn’t an intrinsic part of me like my eyes
But Francis, unfortunately, hadn’t been able to see through
things the way Papa had, and that was because Francis had rarely felt
safe. You could see it in the way Francis’ eyes got doubtful taking in a
room, and the way he was always biting down on his lower lip. The
way it looked as if he was always trying to keep himself from crying.