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Good Family

Good Family

3.5 2
by Terry Gamble

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A retreat on Lake Michigan for old-money WASPs, Sand Isle has long been the summer residence of the Addison family. The youngest member of the clan, Maddie Addison, survived an awkward but sheltered adolescence only to be plagued in adulthood by alcoholism, a failed marriage, and an unendurable loss that sent her fleeing the burden of family expectations. Now,


A retreat on Lake Michigan for old-money WASPs, Sand Isle has long been the summer residence of the Addison family. The youngest member of the clan, Maddie Addison, survived an awkward but sheltered adolescence only to be plagued in adulthood by alcoholism, a failed marriage, and an unendurable loss that sent her fleeing the burden of family expectations. Now, after an eleven-year hiatus, Maddie has been summoned back to Sand Isle, where her widowed mother languishes near death. What awaits Maddie is a collision of distinct, eccentric personalities -- by turns hilarious and poignant -- as well as an archive of memories that evoke pleasure, passion, and pain. Beneath the silent gaze of her ailing mother, Maddie and her family must confront their past and face the future to once again find a home in a house steeped in untold stories of its own.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gamble's evocative second novel chronicles a prodigal daughter's fraught homecoming and re-immersion in a family history both harsh and cradling. After an 11-year absence, 40-something filmmaker Maddie Addison leaves New York and returns to her patrician family's summer place on the shores of Lake Michigan to join an odd mix of family and friends at the bedside of her dying mother. There, as she battles with the ghosts of past mistakes, she discovers family secrets and confronts her personal tragedies. She faces her sister, Dana; an old boyfriend; and a cast of eccentric cousins as they all come together for the first time in more than a decade. As her former boozehound mother's health deteriorates, Maddie recollects the decades past that account for the woman she has become, recounting her confused love for various cousins, her failed marriage, the death of her infant and her own struggles with alcohol. Hidden letters, secret loves and desperate acts all come to light as Maddie strives for peace with her relatives and within herself. Though she occasionally strains for lyricism, Gamble (The Water Dancers) paints a poignant tale that is at once tragic and hopeful. Agent, Carole Bidnick. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Returning after many years to the summer home of her wealthy family on an island in Lake Michigan, Maddie Addison is forced to face childhood issues and the decline, after a stroke, of her once flamboyant mother. Her cousins gather, as they did in their youth, at the shabby giant "cottage" where they have vacationed for generations. Now an independent filmmaker in New York, divorced, with a dwindling inheritance and sad memories of a lost child, Maddie faces the ghosts of the past with trepidation. Her sister and cousins wrestle their own demons and their mixed feelings about the wealth they've shared. Gamble (The Water Dancers) is evidently descended from a similar family fortune, and her writing is true and evocative. This coming-of-middle-age family novel is a cut above the usual. Recommended as the perfect camp novel of the summer.-Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Recovering alcoholic returns to her ancestral cottage to confront family ghosts, in Gamble's second (The Water Dancers, 2003). Maddie Addison has been estranged from her family for 11 years, since her infant daughter died of SIDS at the family summer home and she fell into despair, awash in booze. With the help of Ian, her filmmaking partner and best friend, she joined AA and has attained relative serenity in Manhattan. Now, however, she has been summoned back to the Aerie, a massive, ramshackle residence on Sand Isle in Upper Lake Michigan, a private island resort for the descendants of Midwestern oligarchs, including the Addisons, founders of a shampoo and cold-remedy empire. Maddie's widowed mother, Evelyn, paying the wages of her inveterate tippling, is moribund after a stroke, and Maddie has returned for a final reckoning with her. But since her mother is now physically as well as emotionally incommunicado, Maddie must make do with exorcising her unresolved passion for her twin cousins, Derek and Edward, and parsing the strangeness of anorexic, guru-besotted cousin Adele. The story's second part recaps Maddie's youth-Aerie summers, when she trails Great-Grandmother Addie's ghost, bundles in an upstairs room with Edward, who may or may not have whacked her pet chipmunk, and joyrides with wild-child sister Dana in the family station-wagon. She attends Harvard and NYU, blows her chance of marrying plastic-bag scion Jamie, marries fellow cineaste Angus instead, has his child. Back in 1999, she catches her niece Jessica and Derek's son Beowulf flirting with kissing-cousin-dom and is bemused by cousin Sedgwick's functioning drunkenness and Dana's straitlaced Catholicism, overcompensationfor a hush-hush abortion years before. As for Edward, he's long since disappeared into madness after a stint in Vietnam. In all, Evelyn remains a cipher but so does Maddie, while Gamble skirts or underplays money and class issues, and genteel punch-pulling deflates any potential conflict. Though it honors Edward's urging to slip "beneath the surface," Gamble's effort, albeit worthy, doesn't go deep enough. Author tour
Rocky Mountain News
"Gamble has done a graceful job of providing insight, as well as intrigue. Grade: B+"

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Read an Excerpt

Good Family
A Novel

Chapter One

In the years before our grandmother died, when my sister and I wore matching dresses, and the grown-ups, unburdened by conscience, drank gin and smoked; those years before planes made a mockery of distance, and physics a mockery of time; in the years before I knew what it was like to be regarded with hard, needy want, when my family still had its goodness, and I my innocence; in those years before Negroes were blacks, and soldiers went AWOL, and women were given their constrained, abridged liberties, we traveled to Michigan by train.

Summers began with our little group clustered, my father presiding on the platform, the tinny train-coming smell that electrified the air. Weeks before school let out, the steamer trunks had been brought up, followed by the ritual of packing. In June, we boarded the Super Chief, pulling out of Pasadena, my mother and father, my sister and I, Louisa our nurse, my grandmother and her parakeet, her chauffeur, her cook, and two maids who had parakeets of their own. My grandmother, Bada, who was my father's mother, visited with us in the club car and viewed the dresses our mother had bought—appliquéd beanstalks meandering up one side, Jack at the hem, the Giant at our shoulders. Bada smiled and patted our heads and gave us sour candies. Then Louisa pulled us away to the dome car, where we watched the rocks and sand and cactuses of Arizona glide by.

Like Louisa, the porters were Negroes. They called my father "sir," and he called them "sir" back, but I knew it wasn't the same. My father was a tall man with a proud nose and a bearing bred from Choate and Princeton and World War II. He seemed to stand taller than anyone in the Chicago train station. I shook off Louisa's hand, my Mary Janes clacking upon the tiles as I ran through a vast cavern rife with cigars and diesel until I found my father's hand and grasped it. Can't you keep hold of her? my mother hissed at Louisa when they caught up to us. My father laid his long fingers on my shoulder as if he was going to embrace me. Instead, he prodded me toward my mother.

From that time on, I was put on a leash. They strapped me into a sort of vest I could not undo, and Louisa grasped that leather rope as if her life depended on it. After I grew up, my mother told me it was only one summer I traveled to Michigan at the end of a leash, but if my memory serves me, I traveled like that for years.

Now it is blackness below -- acres of woodland, lake, and river. The inside of the plane is barely lit, and even though the seats are full, no one talks above the engines. It is late, and everyone just wants to get there. Except for me. I want the plane to turn around. I press my forehead to the glass until I vibrate, becoming one with the engines, scanning the landscape for that one place where gravity takes me as if nothing else exists. Finally, I make out a band of lights on a smudge of land, the dots of moored boats in a harbor. Below on that island huddle forty or so summerhouses. Some of them are silent with sleep. Others have people sitting on porches, drinking their nightcaps. In more than one, someone is playing bridge or charades. Someone is dancing. Someone is making love.

But not in our house. In our house, my brother-in-law has nodded off beneath his book, and my sister, if she's awake, is knitting. Upstairs, in the front room—the good room facing the lake -- my mother, too, is sleeping, as she has slept for months, her eyes not quite closed, unable to move, her snore penetrating the board-thin walls.

I am not returning because of my mother. It is my sister who calls me back. We are descending now, the runway traced by a pale, blue glow. The plane lurches, stops. The passengers rise, their heads ducked beneath the low ceiling. I grab my bag, waiting my turn to push out the door into the humid sweetness of the Michigan air.

Except for the bars, Harbor Town is dark. It is late, and even the ice-cream store has been mopped up, the chairs stacked on tables. It's been eleven years, but I know that in the daylight, colored awnings will flank the streets, shading boxes of petunias and impatiens -- red, white, and violet. From every lamppost, American flags imply that the Fourth of July, already one month gone, is just around the corner. The airport van has dropped me off. Standing beside my luggage on the pier, I fix my eyes on the humpbacked island less than a half mile offshore. It looks the same. It always looks the same. For a moment, dread gives way to the anticipation that I felt as a child after a four-day train ride when we first saw the lake, the ferry, heard the gulls, smelled the rotted essence of fish.

I ring the old brass bell that has hung for over a century. From across the harbor, the rhythm of a chugging propeller grows louder until I make out the gleaming teak lake boat of my childhood. The driver is young. He wears a guard's uniform and a change maker on his belt, but he doesn't charge for the ride. After he docks and loads my bags, I sit in the cockpit, crossing the channel that, like the river Styx, divides one world from another. The faint strands of U2 coming from the driver's radio seem jarring, and I don't know the driver's name, but I give him mine, whisper it like a password, a name that passes unnoticed in New York ...

Good Family
A Novel
. Copyright © by Terry Gamble. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

The author of The Water Dancers, Terry Gamble sits on the English Advisory Board of the University of Michigan. She lives in California with her husband and children.

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