As the novel opens, Ellen Gulden is in jail, on suspicion of having aided in the death of her mother, a woman who had been experiencing agonizing pain from inoperable cancer. As Ellen reminisces about the five months she spent caring for her mother, the novel develops into much more than the story of her mother's death. Ultimately, it is the story of Ellen's emotional and spiritual coming of age, a positive story of growth and love, not the maudlin tearjerker that one might expect on the basis of plot summaries.
When her father first asks her to come home to care for her mother, Ellen is resentful. She has been out of college only a couple of years, and her career as a journalist in New York is just starting. She resents the fact that she will have to give up her whole life and return home indefinitely--perhaps permanently--believing that her father has not been doing his part to help her mother. Ellen, nevertheless, returns home, and she and her mother begin to know each other in new ways, starting, at first, with their two-person book club and then moving on to a sharing of holiday decorating and cooking secrets. Her resentment of her father increases, as her own relationships, especially with her long-term lover, deteriorate.
The death of Kate Gulden is part of the much larger story of Ellen's discoveries about herself and her new understandings of her parents, her parents' marriage, and how one faces one's inevitable fate. Her ability to make peace with both her mother's death and her changed feelings for her father take place within the context of her arrest and its aftermath, as she comes to a new recognition that life's important questions have no absolute answers. A fine novel which reveals the ambiguities of love and family relationships, the novel stresses the changing roles within families as people face the inevitabilities of life, growth, and death. Mary Whipple