Eden by Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg
Published by She Writes Press, 336 pages, $17
A house, in this case a summer mansion in Rhode Island, has great power to define a family, and this one’s name—Eden—comes with bittersweet undertones. The estate was built in the 1920s by a Jewish paterfamilias, Bunny, whose wife Sadie comes from a quintessentially WASP family. Blasberg beautifully portrays the family’s upper-class flavor, from their politely mannered conversational style to their country clubbing and other pastimes of a privileged oceanside life of leisure. Bridge games connect them; tennis matters. But the author also shows us their repressions and long-held secrets.
We get a long view of the family in chapters that alternate between 1915-1955 and 2000. When Bunny and Sadie’s teenage daughter Becca gets pregnant, she’s sent to an unwed mothers’ home amid a reputation-saving hush. Her baby Lee is adopted, and the story has it she’s spent a year at finishing school. A hasty marriage to Dan, a “suitable” Yale doctor, gets her back on track. But when Becca has daughter Rachel, neither Dan nor her own father knows that it’s her second “first baby.”
In 2000, alarming vicissitudes darken the blue sky over Eden—Becca may be facing her final summer there, as Dan squandered their money and family members hope to sell the property. Meanwhile, her granddaughter announces that she’s pregnant; single motherhood is no longer a scandal, and Becca, after 50 years of brave stoicism, finally reveals her secret. This debut novel rings with lively dialogue that vivifies the rarified ethos of a family across generations.
From Page 250: She was starting to think like her father. He had been the most outspoken about the “new money” outsiders permeating Long Harbor. He defended the spirit of Yankee frugality that had led to the gradual shabbiness of the town, driveways of crumbled seashells bleeding into patchy green lawns and sporadically trimmed hedges. It was a lot more run-down than the Founders would have cared for, primarily because the second and third generations were no longer flush with cash.