I usually burn through a book within a couple of days. This one took me nearly 3 months, in fits and starts, between other reading. It just wasn't a good fit.
was completed by Tabitha King (wife of Stephen King, and a good writer in her own right), from a partial manuscript by Michael McDowell (author of a number of other mystery/Gothic/horror novels, and the screenwriter for Beetlejuice
.) In some ways it reminds me of both Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides
and Rebecca Wells' Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
, not only because it's set in the South in the 1950s, but also because of the dysfunctional relationships between generations and between the parents of the main character - one of those mismatched marriages, as far as the social standing of their respective families, and even though they treat each other like crap, there's also still a major flame going on between them.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Calley, daughter of the aforementioned mismatched parents. Her social-climbing mother, Roberta Ann Carroll, marries the one member of the Dakin family who has prospered, but quickly recognizes that his money does not automatically ensure the cultured living she aspires to. Roberta's own mother, Deirdre, AKA "Mamadee", has inculcated in her a disdain for commonness - in part, we discover, to distance herself from her circus-performer parents. When Calley is seven years old, her father Joe Cane Dakin is kidnapped and murdered horribly, and from there spirals a long series of odd occurrences that are only ever obliquely explained.
(While I appreciate not having every subtlety explained to me, it's irritating to have hints dropped [like the suggestions throughout the first half of the book that there's something odd about Calley that is obvious to others] that are not clarified at all. I realize that children take everyday things for granted and that, since the narrative is in her voice, perhaps she wouldn't think to describe what it is about her that causes people to stare, but it doesn't seem to be germane to how the story unfolds to hide it. I hate being teased with promises of resolution, only to get to the end and have only a half-assed explanation.)
In the wake of Joe Cane Dakin's murder comes a cascade of disaster: Calley and her (dreadful, greedy, self-absorbed) mother are stripped of her father's money and turned out of their home, and the upbringing of Calley's older brother Ford is appropriated by Mamadee, Calley's vainglorious and calculating grandmother. Calley and Roberta end up in a boarding house on the Gulf of Mexico, where they spend the next 10 years, during which Calley will be used by various ghosts from her past as a conduit to speak to the living... I've just realized there really isn't any way to adequately explain this book. If you don't mind a great deal of ambiguity, it's an interesting read. Don't expect a horror story, though.