This book will capture you in the first pages and simply not let you go. We learn the ending in the first few pages: a family named Richardson come home to find their house burning to the ground and a mother and daughter quietly leave their rental across town, leaving the keys in the mailbox. The story that unfolds to explain this ending is full of twists and turns and a panoply of developing point relationships between all the players.
The story takes place in Shaker Heights, Ohio. A singular community with a long history of taking planning very seriously (their motto: “most communities just happen, the best are planned”) the residents are also very proud of their openness and diversity. The Richardson family is a good representation for Shaker Heights: a traditional family with four high-school age children, they are attractive, friendly, and open-minded. Single mother Mia and daughter Pearl rent the top half of a duplex from the Richardsons and slowly get drawn into their orbit. In the meantime, they all become embroiled on different sides of a difficult moral situation between adoptive parents and a poor immigrant who has changed her mind about giving up her baby.
The book includes a fascinating and detailed discussion of Shaker Heights as well as an elegant portrayal of Mia as the artist, including deep dives on her endeavors – photographs taken of complex projects that are months in the making. It also includes a multi-faceted discussion of what it means to be a mother in every possible incarnation from those for whom motherhood is the ultimate goal, to those who choose abortion, to those who give up their children for adoption. Race and cultural identity play a big part in the story as does the importance of reflecting on the morality of ones actions.
Great for fans of Ann Packer, Lee Smith, and Ann Patchett.