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Book Review

The Guest Book

Rating:

THE GUEST BOOK is a family saga, following three generations of the wealthy Ogden Milton family from their homes in Manhattan and Oyster Harbor, to the island they own off the coast of Maine.  While the family’s wealth dwindles with each generation, their sense of privilege does not.  Through it all, though, their lives and fortunes are riddled with shameful secrets, deep-seated prejudice, and regret for paths not taken.

The hype for this book was tremendous.  How could I not buy it?  I’m a Maine lover, and a huge presence in THE GUEST BOOK is Crockett’s Island, an idyllic spot off the coast that, over the course of the three generations we see, comes to embody the very identity of the family.  As with so many upper-crust icons whose arrogance leads to ignorance, the Miltons want all things to remain forever the same.  As the 1930’s move toward the 60’s, then the 80’s and beyond, this puts them at odds with a changing world.

THE GUEST BOOK is at once a most beautiful and frustrating novel.  The writing is rich with period detail in time, place, and clothing, and the author goes into similar detail describing the characters’ feelings and thoughts.  She touches on many weighty subjects, not the least being race relations and wartime politics.  But the book didn’t come alive for me until she actually began to focus on one or another of her characters – so that I was able to focus in, myself.

This book should have been shorter.  The first 100+ pages, while beautifully written, could have been 50 pages.  Too often, the author presented stretches of monologue that were intellectual before we had bonded with the book.  Granted, the stretches do set the scene for what is to come.  But I had trouble staying interested and, at times, had to force myself to continue.  In the end, the effort was worth it.

“History lies in the cracks,” teaches one of the Milton granddaughters, herself a college professor in 2017.  This book is indeed about those things that fall – or are pushed – between the cracks and ignored, those things we don’t readily see or hear.

At its finest, THE GUEST BOOK is a novel about all that is unspoken in our lives.  Once the pace picked up, I couldn’t put it down.