This book has some strong similarities to another book I happen to be reading at the same time, so I am going to borrow from that one first. The narrator of Robert Penn Warren’s novel All the King’s Men describes the hooks a family, specifically a parent, tries to put into you when you happen to be home as “blood greed” something that often masks itself and can be confused for love, maybe even rhymes with love, but is a thing different from love.
So when Philip Carver receives a phone call from his two sisters, separate and subsequent to each other, pleading with him to come home to address a family crisis, he is reluctant to give in. The crisis is that their elderly father (some 80 or so years old) has made plans to marry a younger woman, this two years on the heels of their mother’s death. This crisis is more of a crisis to the sisters, who are unmarried and in need of whatever family money there is more so than Philip, who is a book publisher in New York. Eyeing his own life with the somewhat younger Holly in New York, he realizes he must go back to at least assess the situation. We are treated to a rich family history in the meantime as we learn about his father’s law and business practices, where he was betrayed by a friend and partner, whom we will come to meet. We also get wonderful musings on the state of Tennessee, which may or may not interest you, but does open up some consideration on other landlocked states in our country and is very much middle of the country in our consciousnesses.
This is a late book by an accomplished author and shares some real similarities and/or parallels to All the King’s Men as mentioned above, but also Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer and James Agee’s A Death in the Family, one other great Tennessee novel (Andrew Lytle’s The Velvet Horn rounds off these top three). But rather than feel like the end of a career or following in the footsteps, this just simply comes off as both a brilliant novel, but also one that feels like a close to the middle-class Southern novels of the 1930s-1960s. One last hurrah.