Bromfield takes a close look at the Pentlands- a fictional rich family in New England- exposing the hypocrisy and ignorance behind their luxurious facade. Bromfield’s eloquence when describing both his characters and their surroundings is breathtaking, and his accuracy in describing the characters’ complicated emotions makes it apparent that he knows human nature very well. A fascinating study on the struggle of one woman to escape the stifling influence of her husband and in-laws.
First of all, I wasn’t crazy about Louis Bromfield’s writing. What annoyed me the most about it was his tendency to use an ambiguous pronoun and follow with the proper name it referred to in parentheticals immediately after. He probably only did this three or four times, but it was incredibly irritating to me and stuck out every time it happened. It felt lazy, because he could have just as easily used the proper noun without ever dragging the pronoun in to muddy things up. The other thing about his writing that frustrated me was its utter lack of subtlety, which I’ll get to shortly.
So here’s what I liked: the book was incredibly well structured, and the characters were all well constructed, with real struggles and failings and motivations. The characters were what struck me first. Olivia, who was a stranger to the Durham area when she married into the Pentland family years ago, now has a grown daughter, Sybil, and an ill and dying son, Jack. She’s married to Anson Pentland, who’s more interested in writing the family history of the Pentlands than his wife, and hasn’t so much as come into her room in 15 years. The patriarch, John Pentland, the Puritan in an age that has otherwise lost it’s belief, and his sister, Aunt Cassie, with a dead husband and no children of her own, who derives her only pleasure in life from gossip and her family manipulations. And thrown into the mix, the impetus for the conflict, is Sabine Callendar, the niece of John Pentland, who is divorced and the black sheep of the family, whose experiences growing up with the Pentland family have left her jaded and wanting to see the Pentland family get their comeuppance.