Circle of Three: A Novel

( 3 )


Can grief last for a person's whole life? That is the question that haunts Carrie as she mourns the sudden death of her husband, and the much earlier death of their love. Carrie's overbearing mother, Dana, also silently mourns a painful loss: the disintegration of her relationship with her daughter. At the end point of their two generations, Ruth—Carrie's precocious child on the brink of womanhood—struggles with the loss of her father and the emotional abandonment of her mother. Still, she is eager to discover ...

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Circle of Three

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Can grief last for a person's whole life? That is the question that haunts Carrie as she mourns the sudden death of her husband, and the much earlier death of their love. Carrie's overbearing mother, Dana, also silently mourns a painful loss: the disintegration of her relationship with her daughter. At the end point of their two generations, Ruth—Carrie's precocious child on the brink of womanhood—struggles with the loss of her father and the emotional abandonment of her mother. Still, she is eager to discover who she is and what life holds, even if that knowledge draws her away from the people she loves.

Through the stories of three unforgettable women, New York Times bestseller Patricia Gaffney explores the despair and hope, misunderstanding and compassion, anger and love that can divide a family . . . yet ultimately binds it together.

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Editorial Reviews

Jill M. Smith
The complexities of family, relationships and life are wonderfully examined and exposed in Patricia Gaffney's new release Circle of Three. Ms. Gaffney has a true gift for looking into the hearts of women.
Romantic Times
Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
Though good scores came in, there were few write-ups on this "interesting" novel exploring the relationships among three generations in the same family, facing love and loss in a small town.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Three generations of small-town Virginia women--troubled teen Ruth Van Allen, her equally insecure mother, Carrie Van Allen, and bossy grandmother Dana Danziger--struggle to overcome personal problems and self-absorption to grow closer as a family in Gaffney's sweepingly sentimental novel. When Carrie's unfeeling husband Stephen suddenly dies of a heart attack, she desperately wants to bounce back into the arms of divorced farmer Jess Deeping, her conveniently available high school sweetheart. Problem is, Dana never approved of this once wild boy whose rough and rural upbringing reminds her too much of the verbally abusive country home she tried so hard to escape by marrying spineless academic George. Dana also harrumphs Carrie's interest in helping Jess reproduce a miniature Noah's Ark to honor the request of dying Arkist religious cult member Eldon Pletcher. Nevertheless, early on in this sprawling book it becomes clear that, after much flaky deliberation, Carrie will get a second chance with the man she's always loved. Meanwhile, Ruth is experimenting with a perpetually stoned boyfriend and a job at a health-food store, and trying to get over the shock of her father's death. Gaffney (The Saving Graces) relies too heavily on stale pop cultural references and language in telling Ruth's story, and male characters take a lot of abuse in this female-centric drama. Nevertheless, she turns out some resonant scenes, including one in which steely grandma Dana finally admits to an addiction. Though handicapped by transparent characterizations and poor pacing, the novel offers a reliable if predictable emotional roller-coaster ride. Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club selection. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
The latest novel from Gaffney (The Saving Graces) follows three generations of women through one tumultuous year. The book centers on recently widowed Carrie, who sees the grieving process as a chance to reinvent herself. But for Ruth, her 15-year-old daughter, it simply precipitates the onset of parent/child separation. Dana, Carrie's 70-year-old mother, isn't grieving; she's too busy trying to direct her daughter's life. Each chapter unfolds from a different first-person perspective, and the result is choppy and superficial. The chapters follow chronologically, but there is little sense of time passing, even though time is so critical to the grieving process. Angst-ridden Ruth is realistically drawn, but the character of Dana is wasted. Because Carrie, the main attraction, views herself as wimpy, her sections are dull. Ultimately, she undergoes little true character development, merely finding a new man to replace the old one rather than developing inner strength. Public libraries should purchase on demand. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/00.]--Jodi L. Israel, MLS, Jamaica Plain, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
A conventional take on the well-worn theme of the relationship between mothers and daughters, this time exploring the effects on lives when a husband and father dies suddenly and three generations find the past still shaping their lives. As seems almost obligatory with this increasingly formulaic concept, Gaffney (Saving Graces, 1999) has three women take turns narrating the story: Carrie Van Allen, the recently widowed wife of mathematician Stephen; her 15-year-old daughter Ruth; and Dana Danziger, Carrie's mother, all of whom live in Clayborne, the small Virginia town where Carrie's father and Stephen both taught at the local college. Carrie, an artist, feels especially responsible for Stephen's heart attack—they had been arguing minutes before it occurred—but her guilt has even deeper roots: she realizes she never really loved Stephen and that her heart still belongs to local farmer Jess Deeping, whom she's adored since high school. Ruth, missing her father, and worried about Carrie's depression, finds solace in visiting Jess's farm. Dana, meanwhile, whose family were dirt-poor country folk, is bored with husband George, whom she married because she thought he'd give her social standing; she now wants Carrie to remarry someone of good family and promise—meaning not Jess. Carrie, though, who starts painting again, is newly drawn to Jess and resents all the more her mother's meddling and her earlier role in preventing her from marrying Jess previously. The two become lovers, angering both Ruth and Dana. Shocked by what she thinks is Carrie's disloyalty to Stephen, Ruth runs away to Washington, D.C., in an action that seems moreplotdevice to bring things to a head than nail-biting scare: for, once back home, all three women confess their misgivings and mistakes and are ready to move on. A disappointing second outing marked by a thin story and thinner characters.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062072023
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/3/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 420
  • Sales rank: 728,372
  • Product dimensions: 7.80 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Patricia Gaffney's novels include The Goodbye Summer, Flight Lessons, and The Saving Graces. She and her husband currently live in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Nature's Way

It's natural to feel guilty after the death of a loved one. Guilt and grief go together — that's what they say. Because you're still alive, I suppose. Well, lots of things are "natural," including infanticide in some cultures. My teenage daughter's extremely odd friend Raven recently shared with me that the female coot pecks to death all but two of her baby chicks because feeding them just gets to be too big a hassle. It's nature's way.

The presumption behind the guilt-is-natural bromide is that one hasn't actually done anything to precipitate the loved one's death. And there's the rub. I provoked my husband into an argument five minutes before he smashed the car into a tree and killed himself (That wasn't the only thing I did, but it's the showiest.) An incredibly stupid argument: why couldn't he drive Ruth to her soccer tournament the next day, why did I always have to do it? When was the last time he'd gone to a parent-teacher conference, a science fair, anything? In six years Ruth would be twenty-one and out of his life; did he really want to spend the rest of his only child's adolescence shut up in his office grading papers and writing — yes, I said this — obscure articles on mathematical minutiae that even more obscure journals only published once in a blue moon?

It was eleven o'clock, a Friday night. We were driving home after dinner with my parents, a dinner Stephen hadn't wanted to go to in the first place — but then he never did, so I don't take that so much to heart; I forgive myself for that. He said he was tired, but I thought nothing of it. Ruth, thank God,thank God, wasn't with us; she'd gone to a birthday sleepover at a girlfriend's. I'd spent the evening keeping a tense peace, smoothing over this, rephrasing that. My mother always liked Stephen, I'm not sure why, but he never liked her, and to this day she doesn't know it. That's my doing. For eighteen years, the length of our marriage, I constantly respun and reinterpreted his rudeness to her, at times his outright contempt. "He's thinking higher thoughts," I'd joke when he couldn't bother to come out of his study when Mama made one of her (admittedly irritating) unannounced drop-ins. And she's so easily intimidated by what she takes for intellectual superiority — except, interestingly, where my father's concerned — so it was never hard to make her believe that Stephen wasn't cold and disdainful, no, he was a genius. Geniuses are eccentric and brusque, they keep to themselves, they don't have time to be ingratiating to their mothers-in-law.

What triggered the argument in the car was fear. I had seen something that night that scared me: a sickening similarity between my husband and my father. Getting angry at Stephen, trying to get a rise out of him, trying to make him yell at me — that would've been ideal — was a way to convince myself I'd seen no such thing.

My father, George Danziger, taught English literature at Remington College for forty years. He recently retired, to write a book with a colleague on some minor eighteenth-century poet whose name I've forgotten. My father is a short, heavyset man, balding, slope-shouldered; he has a paunch; he slouches; pipe ash usually litters his vest or his coat sleeve. He frequently wears a vacant expression, and I suppose he's as close to the cliché of the absentminded professor as a human, as opposed to a cartoon, can be. But there's still a rumpled dignity in his sagging face and his gentle, phlegmatic movements, at least to me. Stephen was his physical opposite. Medium tall with a hard, compact, runner's body, he had handsome, sharp-pointed features — like Ruth's — and a full head of crisp, curling, sandy-gray hair. Quick, economical gestures. And always a restlessness about him, an impatience with his surroundings that could be insulting if you took it personally.

Mama and I did the dishes while the men went outside so Pop could smoke his pipe, a forbidden pleasure in my mother's house. I watched them idly through the kitchen windowstanding beside the wrought iron table in the late-August hush, their shoulders hunched, chins pulled into the collars of their short-sleeved shirts. They didn't have much to say to each other, but then, they never did. The college was all they had in common, and Stephen still, after three years, secretly resented Pop for his help, such as it was, in getting him his teaching appointment. They kept a manly distance apart, and even when they spoke they never looked at each other. They shuffled from foot to foot, hands jammed in their pockets, and squinted up at the night sky over the roof as if they were watching a movie. Just in that moment, as different as they were, they looked the same to me. Identical. I had my hands in hot water, but I remember the coldness that came into me, like the flat of a blade on bare skin. The chill thought crept in that they were the same.

Impossible — Stephen had stubbornness in him, a temper, a mean streak, Stephen was alive. I thought of my mother's discontent and disappointment, what they've turned her into and who she blames them on, and I thought, What if, by marrying a man as absent and unreachable as Pop, I've made the same mistake she made? Not a similar mistake, the exact same mistake.

So I started a fight. Unlike my father, Stephen could give as good as he got — better. His trusty weapon, cold, withering logic, always trounced my teary, incoherent furies, no contest, a sword fight with a balloon. But that night I didn't care, I wanted noise, racket, action. I waited until we were driving home on Clay Boulevard, a straight, well-lit stretch of four-lane highway, no distractions...

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 7, 2010

    Not up to Gaffney's usual standard . . .

    Having read several of Gaffney's previous efforts, it is difficult to believe she also wrote this. The characters are interesting and quirky, but not as likable as in her other novels. The plot is ho-hum with a few interesting twists. So overall, an ok read; but nothing special.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2001

    A Disappointment...

    I loved The Saving Graces and couldn't wait until 'Circle of Three' was released. What a disappointment, the charcters are bland the story is convaluted...(recreating Noah's Ark, why was that thrown in there?). How could the same woman have written both books? 'Isabel' should be rolling over in her grave.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Poignant family drama

    <P>Carrie instigates an argument while her husband is driving home from an outing when he suddenly keels over and dies from a heart attack. Carrie¿s guilt is so intense, she slides into a deep depression for the next four months, unable to eat or even dress until her mother Dana forces her into obtaining a job. Dana hopes that Carrie¿s new boss will prove to be a suitable spouse once her daughter comes out of mourning. <P>Carrie cares about no male except perhaps her first love Jessie, a person she fled when she decided to abandon her small hometown. Carrie¿s teenage daughter Ruth knows nothing about the shared past her mother and Jessie had. Instead she likes him, treating him like a friendly older brother and occasionally like a father. Dana never approved the ¿socially inferior¿ Jessie, but feels that when he thinks the time is right he will make his move. However, when Ruth catches Jessie and Carrie in a compromising position, she feels betrayed causing a crisis that forces the three generation of women to confront each other and themselves. <P>Patricia Gaffney follows up her last bestseller THE SAVING GRACES with another powerful drama that will appeal to her fans as well as that of Delinsky and Siddons. The poignant story line deals with problems on different levels as the three females bring differing perspectives to the table. This makes for an engaging tale that charms the audience as everyday people try to do their best to attain a happy life for themselves while hoping to bring contentment to their loved ones. CIRCLE OF THREE is family drama that is impossible to put down until the final page is read. <P>Harriet Klausner

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