I love stories about family dramas. No matter how many times authors throw the standard elements into their novel – love, infidelity, an overbearing parent, an absent parent, a sibling rival – the finished result is always different. If you like family dramas, stop what you’re doing (actually, finish reading this post) and get your hands on the brilliant debut, Love All by Callie Wright.
“It’s the spring of 1994 in Cooperstown, New York, and Joanie Cole, the beloved matriarch of the Obermeyer family, has unexpectedly died in her sleep. Now, for the first time, three generations are living together under one roof and are quickly encroaching on one another’s fragile orbits. Eighty-six-year-old Bob Cole is adrift in his daughter’s house without his wife. Anne Obermeyer is increasingly suspicious of her husband, Hugh’s, late nights and missed dinners, and Hugh, principal of the town’s preschool, is terrified that a scandal at school will erupt and devastate his life. Fifteen-year-old tennis-team hopeful Julia is caught in a love triangle with Sam and Carl, her would-be teammates and two best friends, while her brother, Teddy, the star pitcher of Cooperstown High, will soon catch sight of something that will change his family forever.
At the heart of the Obermeyers’ present-day tremors is the scandal of The Sex Cure, a thinly veiled roman à clef from the 1960s, which shook the small village of Cooperstown to the core. When Anne discovers a battered copy underneath her parents’ old mattress, the Obermeyers cannot escape the family secrets that come rushing to the surface.”
While Love All might not have the same dry humour as Johnathan Dee’s A Thousand Pardons or Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements; the same sense of place as Lisa Klaussman’s Tigers in Red Weather; or the same elegant turn of phrase as Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, it does have the same carefully and beautifully constructed characters and finely detailed plot.
“The moon was a pancake in the sky. I stood at the curb and looked back at our house, where the white porch rail was offset by the tidy green lawn… Upstairs, my parents’ bedroom was lit up, bright yellow, and I thought it was true that you couldn’t tell much about a family from the outside.”
With three generations in play, Wright cleverly uses a ‘history repeats itself’ theme – overtly with the use of ‘The Sex Cure’ and its meaning for each generation of the Obermeyers but also on a more complex level where each generation examines issues surrounding loyalty, fidelity and reputation. As the small and seemingly isolated decisions and actions of each character unfold, the complexity of the plot is revealed.
“All the narrow lines – between truth and fiction, want and need, friendship and love – seemed suddenly traversable: Elaine Dorian had done it. By the stroke of her pen, she had roiled and rippled the town with one story, a story everyone believed, so much so that she may have made it true. Roman à clef. A novel with a key. I uncapped my pen and wrote…”
Chapters are told from alternating points of view – the best are those told by Julia. In Julia, Wright has created a perfectly likeable self-absorbed teen who quickly discovers how even the strongest friendships are in fact delicate minefields of emotion.
“At the heart of our three-way union was the language we had created, our mother tongue, but with one thousand words at the ready, I still couldn’t tell Sam that I had missed him while we was gone.”
4/5 It’s difficult to say much about a book that you thoroughly enjoyed, short of ‘read it’!
At a local restaurant, the waitress always bring 15-year-old Julia a Shirley Temple. Although at some stage, the waitress started switching the lemonade for champagne (and Julia was really loving her Shirley Temples).