In her lyrical second novel, Kristen den Hartog has fashioned an exquisite story of two sisters, Hannah and Vivian, and their cousin Wren, a girl born with deformed hands whose soul lights the air around her. All the girls have vivid memories of their earliest years in rural Canada, the countryside the backdrop for their adventures and their lessons on the strength of family ties.
Hannah and Vivian’s father dies when he is still a young man, soon after the final divorce decree from his wife, Darlene. The extravagantly beautiful Darlene and Mick made a striking couple. The girls cannot comprehend how their once loving parents fall out of love and never quite believe such a thing can happen. Years later, Darlene decides to remarry, this time to a local shoe storeowner, so the sisters return for the wedding, joining their cousin.
As each daughter draws closer to home, long-forgotten memories surface and draw them back, moment by moment, into a past filled with both the joy of discovery and the permanent etching of loss. The past evolves slowly through the eyes of the little girls, Hannah, Vivian and Wren; in the process the children’s hearts are exposed, their innocence shattered by their parents' separation and eventual divorce. The chapters concerning Wren are particularly telling and insightful. The small tortures and cruelties visited upon a girl who is different from her peers make her stronger, each a challenge to a fragile young ego.
Returning to their childhood home before the wedding, Hannah and Vivian reconnect, aware of the brittle irony of Darlene’s marriage. Long after Mick and Darlene’s emotional connections were destroyed by Darlene’s irresponsible need for attention, she continues collecting men for the comfort they bring. Darlene’s beauty has been her substance, only that. Yet Hannah and Vivian find their definition through accessing memories of a loving father, scattered like so many jewels, as they move farther away from the green-painted house; the wise Wren, with her own little daughter, remains the more permanent of the girlhood triad.
Mick’s untimely death unstrings all their lives, these females who have somehow lost their center. In spite of Darlene’s foolishness, Mick has left a legacy, an abundance of love gathered around his daughter’s shoulders, a presence to guide them through the difficult years ahead. Unfortunately, once Darlene squanders the affection and natural beauty she takes for granted, she is unable to do much else with her life. Unlike their mother, the girls find substance in their memories, even the faulty ones, each a part of the fabric of the present and necessary to the whole, where even loss relinquishes its bitterness.