Genealogy: A Novel
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Genealogy: A Novel

4.0 1
by Maud Casey

Meet the Hennarts: Samantha Hennart, a poet with writer's block; her husband, Bernard, obsessed with the life of a nineteenth-century Belgian mystic with stigmata; their son, Ryan, a mediocre rock musician; and their eighteen-year-old daughter, Marguerite, who is quietly losing her mind. A meditation on family, faith, and mental illness, Genealogy is an


Meet the Hennarts: Samantha Hennart, a poet with writer's block; her husband, Bernard, obsessed with the life of a nineteenth-century Belgian mystic with stigmata; their son, Ryan, a mediocre rock musician; and their eighteen-year-old daughter, Marguerite, who is quietly losing her mind. A meditation on family, faith, and mental illness, Genealogy is an operatic story of one family's unraveling and ultimate redemption.

Editorial Reviews

Meghan Daum
We are here and then suddenly we are there, and the confusion parallels the interior lives of the characters. Casey's hand is steady, and there's never any doubt that she's in control. Though Genealogy lacks the freewheeling, raconteurish pleasures of the author's earlier work, it's ambitious and deserves no small amount of praise. Granted, it's also a murky soup. But then so are families. And Casey's refusal to spoon-feed a narrative to her readers reveals a courage that's all too rare in these linear, literal times.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Samantha Hennart is about to die alone from a brain aneurysm; Casey (The Shape of Things to Come) tells her story in flashback. Bernard, Sam's English professor husband, splits the scene in upstate New York (where they live as former urbanites) upon discovering his wife flagrante delicto with the carpenter; Sam had hired him to redo the bathroom so that she might treat her manic depressive daughter, Marguerite, with hydrotherapy. Instead, teen Marguerite runs away, landing in a locked ward in Queens, and son Ryan, a marijuana addict, has already escaped to California, where he haunts morgues. Casey seems to be arguing that the family fell apart because of Sam's essential lack of interest in her children. A better bet of what ails this foursome is utter implausibility: nothing is convincing about these characters, particularly the dialogue, which is heavy on irony and light on authenticity. "Where is your italicist?" Sam asks of her husband. "You know, the little man who jumps up and down behind you whenever you make a really important point?" He's nowhere to be found here. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The author of The Shape of Things to Come (2001) returns with her second novel. Samantha Hennart is a poet who no longer writes poetry. It's been at least 20 years since she has composed a line, and she's not much of a wife or mother, either, and, when she falls to the kitchen floor as an aneurysm explodes in her brain, her family is scattered. Her husband, Bernard, left when he found her having sex with the "hippy carpenter" hired to renovate their bathroom. Her 25-year-old son, Ryan, is across the country in California and relieved to have finally separated himself from his dysfunctional family. And her daughter, Marguerite, 18, is-unbeknownst to anyone-in a mental hospital. This is the story of their history before Sam's aneurysm and the collective fate that awaits them after it. Casey's debut was widely praised as ambitious and accomplished. Her second feels self-consciously literary. Every page is filled with lyrical turns that don't quite convince. The author pushes her characters to dazzle and charm. In one early scene, Sam doesn't just call her family to dinner, she proclaims, "No more drifting in and out. No more eating in front of the television. No more blah, blah, blah, fuzzy around the edges." Marguerite-who is named for a medieval mystic-is mesmerized by her brother's nose, which is not just his nose but his "miraculous nose." Bernard describes his wife's forehead as "revelatory"-repeatedly. Indeed, this is a family given to erudite in-jokes and well-worn epithets, but what, exactly, does Sam's forehead reveal? The fact that we are left without a clue means either that the reader is not worthy of joining the Hennart clique or that Bernard's rhapsodizing is empty of actualmeaning, just as the characters in this novel are not actual people but a series of pretentious poses and ostentatious tics. A bit too much, yet not enough.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

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A Novel
By Maud Casey

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright ©2006 Maud Casey
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060740892

Chapter One

Humble, Then, Your Wisdom

For forty-three years, the one-and-a-half centimeter berrylike sac has been nestled in Samantha Hennart's brain, like an exclamation point curled into a comma waiting for the end of the sentence.

Everyone is gone: her husband, her son, and since yesterday afternoon, without any warning, her daughter has disappeared too. As Sam waits for Marguerite to return -- because she will return, because, really, there is no other option -- her eyelid flutters. Flutter, flutter. It's been fluttering all morning. From nerves, she assumes. To calm herself, she looks out the window to what she calls the lifesaving view, the stubbly Rhode Island fields and fields and fields that lead to the distant sliver that is the ocean. The farmer's son and another boy are out in one of the fields baling hay and they look up to where Sam leans out of the window. In adulthood, she has emerged from a mousy girl shell to be the kind of woman who stops the wandering gaze of men and with her hair pulled back what her husband once called her revelatory forehead is revealed. A revelation of beauty, he said, placing his palm there delicately, deliberately, as if her forehead was a holy relic and Bernard was diviningsomething, but that was years and years ago.

Sam appreciates that the farmer's son, upon seeing her, raises a hand in hello as if she were a normal woman.

Sam's daughter, Marguerite Hennart, will not be back today. She is searching for her heart in Queens. She believes her eighteen-year-old heart, strong enough, tough enough, is in a jar somewhere -- she can hear it thump-thumping -- against thick jelly jar glass. Up and down, up and down the up and down hall she shuffles, searching for her thump-thump heart, pressing her ear into door after door though the mourning women have told her not to. The mourning women whom Marguerite first met in the morning but then there they were in the afternoon and the evening too and so she knew they were not women who came in the morning but mourning women.

The mourning women tell Marguerite not to lean her ear against the doors because there are germs. According to the shorter mourning woman there are germs everywhere, which is kind of funny. Germs in a hospital.

"Germs on the doors, germs on the floor, germs on the walls," the shorter mourning woman says. "Germs everywhere."

"And in this kind of hospital," Marguerite's roommate, Regina, says, skating by on legs bruised from kicking herself, "there are germs on the mind."

But if finding her heart means getting ear germs then Marguerite will get germs in her ears because above all, at the very top of the musty pile of musts, she must find her heart and have it ready for her brother when he comes to carry it to its final resting place. Suddenly, in the overhead sky of the indoor world: paging Dr. Goodman (florid mania, Dr. Goodman says, is like a flower bursting), paging Dr. Good Man, and Marguerite is hopeful. Up and down, up and down, an ear pressed to every door.

Marguerite's brother, Ryan Hennart, isn't on his way to find her heart because he doesn't know it's missing. He doesn't even know Marguerite is missing because he has been gone three weeks, longer than anyone. He is in San Francisco, sitting at a wobbly thrift store table, one of its legs propped up by the Yellow Pages. He is in an apartment not his own in the Mission, across from a woman elaborate with tattoos -- lines and squiggles that were indecipherable when he was having sex with her in the dark last night. With his second cup of coffee, the tattoos become more legible: thorns with drops of blood, an anchor, Jesus on a cross wearing a dress.

"Where did you say you were from?" the woman asks. The woman's pointed question threatens to turn a perfectly enjoyable one-night stand into an interrogation and Ryan is late for his job as a long-term temp.

"Are you going to answer me?" The woman puts her toes in the cuff of Ryan's pants and jiggles her foot. "What are you, mute?" She kicks him.

"Something like that." People should be tattooed by love, Ryan thinks as this woman waits for an answer, although Ryan suspects that no answer will satisfy her. Love should leave a mark on the body, carve itself into different shapes, but he isn't thinking of this woman, he is thinking of Marguerite whose love has tattooed his heart with something that Ryan imagines looks like the snake that winds its way up this woman's arm. The snake that is right now reaching out across the worn, scratched surface of the wobbling table for a carton of milk whose expiration date is a week ago.

"Whatever," the woman says finally, standing to readjust her robe, opening it briefly to reveal a tattooed flower over her left breast. And then, shit, Ryan remembers that all of this love tattoo bullshit is something his mother once said to him and, Jesus, was he so pathetic that he was recycling thoughts of his mother's? A woman who the last time he spoke to her was touting the benefits of some freaky Quaker medicinal treatment that involved taking baths all day long? A woman who was using this freaky antiquated quack treatment to cure whatever it was she thought ailed his sister? If she had asked Ryan, and no one ever did, the longterm effects of parents like she and Bernard weren't going to be washed away by any bath, no matter how long you soaked.

Ryan pulls the woman's calf rough with razor stubble up onto his leg and traces the anchor. He lets his relief at being states and states and states away from his parents run through his finger to this calf in front of him. He can see in this woman's eyes the way relief is being interpreted as something deeper.


Excerpted from Genealogy by Maud Casey Copyright ©2006 by Maud Casey. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Maud Casey stories have appeared in The Threepenny Review, Prairie Schooner, The Gettysburg Review, and elsewhere. Casey received her B.A. from Wesleyan University and her M.F.A. in fiction from the University of Arizona. She lives in Washington, DC and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Maryland.

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Genealogy 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In her forties and all alone Samantha Hennart collapses on her kitchen floor from an aneurysm. No one is there for her as her spouse Bernard left her after he caught her having sex with a carpenter her son Ryan lives on the other coast and their teen daughter Marguerite is in a mental hospital. How did she and her once loved ones get to this state that an acquaintance has to tell them what has happened. --- Twenty years ago Sam was a poet, but has not written a line since. She failed as a wife and worse as a mother. Her son is on the road with his rock band not looking back her daughter desperately needs psychiatric help, but no one is there for her and her spouse finds solace researching information on a nineteenth century Belgium stigmata mystic cholera survivor, Louise Lateau, who has become the love of his life. How they got there is the rest of the story. --- This intriguing character study looks closely at how a family got to a pivotal moment in their lives. The story line is fascinating as readers learn what events led to the disintegration of this family of four. Though the husband and children fail to seem fully developed, fans of family drams will enjoy Maud Casey¿s look at how the shape of things to came into being. --- Harriet Klausner