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by Belva Plain

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With unerring insight and emotional power, Belva Plain, in her extraordinary novel, tells the story of a family divided and of the proud matriarch who takes a bold last stand to unite her warring children in what may be their last Homecoming.

It is a crisp December day when Annette Byrne walks to the end of her long, curving driveway and drops fiveSee more details below


With unerring insight and emotional power, Belva Plain, in her extraordinary novel, tells the story of a family divided and of the proud matriarch who takes a bold last stand to unite her warring children in what may be their last Homecoming.

It is a crisp December day when Annette Byrne walks to the end of her long, curving driveway and drops five sealed envelopes into the mailbox, quickly, before second thoughts stay her hand.  Shortly thereafter, with the holidays approaching, her estranged family will be gathered at her country estate for the first time in years.

The sons. . . two brothers embittered by a breach of ethics, honor, and trust.  The grandchildren. . . one young couple on the verge of divorce; another, lovingly united against the parents who have tarnished their lives.  As the ill-fated meeting hurtles toward a bitter and abrupt conclusion, not even Annette Byrne's indomitable will can heal the rift--until a shattering event alters the landscape forever.

From the Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When the matriarch of the Byrne clan individually summons each member of her family to her country home, the estranged invitees have no idea that they will attend a reunion of sorts. Plain's 15th novel, which reads more like an outline than one of the lavish family sagas we've come to expect from her, zips along swiftly with scant character development. Indeed, readers may wonder why Annette Byrne bothers to gather this array of stereotypes: elder son Lewis and his wife, rich WASPs with "no sense of family"; their daughter Cynthia, who wallows in self-pity because she no longer has the perfect life, man or career; and Annette's younger son, Gene, estranged from Lewis because of a family business disaster years earlier. In addition, Gene remains embittered by the nine-year marriage of his daughter Ellen to Mark Sachs, whose parents, Aaron and Brenda, are orthodox Jews (of course, Aaron is a doctor, a surgeon, no less, who quotes the Bible at inappropriate moments). Can long-raging feuds be overcome by one family gathering? The plot is plagued by two-dimensional characters, stilted dialogue ("Come, come, for heaven's sake, you're out of breath") and an abrupt, all-too-happy ending.
Kirkus Reviews
There's a certain amount of post-trauma misery and marital conflict here (featured in Plain's Secrecy, and Promises), but that's just one element in this cockle-warming yarn about the efforts of an elderly widow to round up—and shape up—her fragmented, warring family. Annette Byrne, 85, sends invitations to a snarling pack of descendants and their in-laws to join her on her estate in upper New York State. Among those not speaking or simply out-of-sync: sons Lewis and Gene, former partners, whose business was destroyed by corruption, for which each blames the other; Lewis's wife Daisy, whose cold manner antagonizes many; and Gene's nice daughter Ellen, who is married to Mark Sachs—none of the parents of the happy couple are thrilled with the Wasp/Jewish union. But a true tragedy blasted the marriage and lives of Lewis's daughter Cynthia and husband Andrew when their twin babies were killed in an accident. The terrible prolonged grief finally forced the couple apart—Andrew was driven to a seedy sexual episode, and Cynthia began divorce proceedings. Now all of Annette's edgy guests have arrived, loving or respecting Annette but appalled by her plan when they realize the identity of the other guests. Will Annette bring them together? Well, yes and no. Yes, the grand, roomy old house, the handsomely appointed table, and yummo food (a Plain specialty) offer the background to peace talks, but Annette is finally reduced to tears. A chance event, potentially tragic, along with a lecture from Annette's neighborhood friend Marion, does bring them together. Cynthia is the last holdout, but sweetness and light prevail. It's all set in a winter landscape, withsleet underlining the central drama, but by the end the emotional thermostat is up and good feeling is spread all around.

From the Publisher
—Library Journal

"Belva Plain writes with authority and integrity."
—San Francisco Chronicle

A Main Selection of the Literary Guild

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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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The desktop was always covered with mail, incoming and outgoing.  Appeals from charities, politicians, whether federal, state, or town, bills and letters from scattered friends, all came flowing.  Sometimes it seemed to Annette that the whole world made connection with her here and asked for response.

She picked up the pen to finish the last of the notes.  Her precise backhand script lay between wide margins, the paper was as smooth as pressed linen, and the dark blue monogram was decorative without possessing too many curlicues.  The whole, even to the back of the envelope, on which her name was engraved--Mrs. Lewis Martinson Byrne, with her address beneath--was pleasing.  E-mail might be the way these days, but there was still nothing as satisfying to send or to receive as a well-written letter; also these days, "Ms."  might be the title of choice for many, but Annette still preferred to be "Mrs.," and that was that.

Having sealed the envelope, she placed it on top of the tidy pile of blue-and-whites, sighed, "There--that's finished," and stood up to stretch.  At eighty-five, even though your doctor said that you were physically ten years younger, you could expect to feel stiff after sitting so long.  Actually, you could expect almost anything, she thought, knowing how to laugh at herself.

Old people were amusing to the young.  Once when she was less than ten years old, her mother had taken her to call on a woman who lived down the country road.  It seemed, as most things did now, like yesterday.

"She's very old, at least ninety, Annette.  She was a married woman with children when Lincoln was president."  

That had meant nothing to Annette.

"My nephew took me out in his machine," the old woman had said.  "We went all the way without a horse."  Marveling, she had repeated, "Without a horse."  

That had seemed ridiculous to Annette.

"So now it's my turn," she said aloud.  "And yet, inside, I don't feel any different from the way I felt when I was twenty."  She laughed again.  "I only look different."  

There she was between the windows, framed in gilt, eternally blond and thirty years old, in a red velvet dress.  Lewis had wanted to display her prominently in the living room, rather than here in the more private library.  But she had objected: portraits were intimate things, not to be shown off before the world.

Facing her and framed in matching gilt on the opposite wall was Lewis himself, wearing the same expression he had worn in life, alert, friendly, and faintly curious.  Often, when she was alone here, she spoke to him.

"Lewis, you would have been amused at what I saw today" (or saddened, or angry).  "Lewis, what do you think about it?  Do you agree?"  

He had been dead ten years, yet his presence was still in the house.  It was the reason, or the chief one, anyway, why she had never moved.

It had been a lively house, filled with the sounds of children, friends, and music, and it was lively still.  Scouts had meetings in the converted barn, and nature-study classes were invited.  Once the place had been a farm, and after that a country estate, one of the less lavish ones in a spacious landscape some two or three hours' drive from New York.  They had bought it as soon as their growing prosperity had allowed.  The grounds, hill, pond, and meadow were treasures and had already been promised after Annette's death to the town, to be kept as a green park forever. That had been Lewis's idea; caring so much about plants and trees, he had built the greenhouse onto the kitchen wing; all their Christmas trees had been live, and now, when you looked beyond the meadow, you saw in a thriving grove fifty years' worth of Scotch pines and spruce.

Of course, it was all too big, but Annette loved it. Especially she loved this room.  It was--what was the word for it?  Cozy, perhaps?  No, that was a poor word to describe it.  Cozy meant too much stuff: too many afghans, plants, and pillows.  This room's walls were covered with books: novels, biography, poetry, and history.  The colors were many quiet shades of blue.  Today, in winter, one dark red amaryllis flourished in an earthenware pot on the desk.

In the corner there was a large dog-bed for the two King Charles spaniels.  They had always kept spaniels.  Roscoe, a gangly, homely mongrel with sorrowful eyes, had a mat of his own. He was completely dependent on Annette, who had found him deserted and hungry on a Caribbean beach.  And she wondered whether, after having lived all these years in comfort, he had any memory of his past misery.  She wondered about animals.  She wondered, in fact, about everything. . . .  But she had better get moving with this pile of letters if they were to be picked up today.

The morning was mild, one of those calm, cold winter mornings without wind, when the pond lay still and lustrous as stainless steel.  Soon, if this cold were to last, it would freeze over. Wearing a heavy jacket and followed by the dogs, she went down the drive to the mailbox at the end.


From the Paperback edition.

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