The Brambles by Eliza Minot
This book was so good, and to think I was putting it off, thinking “not another Minot novel”! Nancy Pearl put it on her top 10 books of 2006, and with good reason. It’s perfect for readers who enjoy family dramas and love character. Margaret, Max, and Edie are the three adult Bramble siblings struggling with family, work, self-identity, their mother’s tragic plane accident, and their father’s deteriorating health. The focus is really on Margaret, a mother of three who loves her children and her husband, while rhapsodizing over her stylish, carefree days in New York City. One review called her an “ambivalent mother” which I think is just wrong—she knows that she has sacrificed some of her earlier self to be a mother, but clearly relishes the roll—and the memories and thoughts that she shares about pregnancy, her eldest son’s intelligence, her panic over her children’s health, provide a complex portrait of a stay-at-home mom’s ups and downs. Max is married with a son, Rex, but is much less grown up than Margaret: he’s quit his job and hiding the fact from his wife, who begins to suspect infidelity. And then there’s Edie, a semi-addled bulimic who is the least developed of the siblings. Overall, this was a satisfying read. The “plot,” and the discovery that the Brambles make about their family’s past, was really secondary for me to the rich characterization and the empathy that Minot brought to each portrait. Unlike Franzen’s The Corrections, this was a family I could have spent much more time with.