LEAVING A HOUSE OF HAPPINESS AND HORROR
Leaving Bayberry House is a vivid novel of sisterhood and family, which explores the frightening powers of the past and the redemptive powers of love.
Two sisters, Liz and Angie, meet at their deceased parents' summer house on the North Shore in Massachusetts to prepare the house for sale. It is August of 1973 and the sisters, who have not seen each other in several years, live disparate lives: Liz, the older sister, is a Farsi trans-lator who travels often to the Middle East, while Angie is a potter married to a professor and has two teenaged children. They are besieged by memories in the house, especially of their father, a popular Unitarian minister, who was too involved in his church and too concerned with the war to give them the attention they needed. His depression and final anguish is a disaster from which neither Liz nor Angie has fully recovered.
Told in alternating points of view, the novel spans the week in which the sisters work in the house together. Each sister evades revealing her current problems to the other: Angie is worried about her daughter, who lives in a commune, and Liz is worried about her marriage, which may end in divorce. The crisis comes when Angie's daughter, two hippie friends, and an elderly, judgmental aunt shelter in the house during a storm.
A parallel story, told in memories that end each chapter, concerns the father's progressive
self-destruction during World War II and its effect on the sisters as children and adolescents. This tense subplot foretells a violent end, both for a man and for humanity. As Angie and Liz clean house emotionally as well as practically, they discard relics and sort through memories until they finally confront their father's death in the place where it happened, twenty-eight years earlier. By facing a past that tore them apart, they come to feel a new love and support for each other.
Ann L. McLaughlin is the author of five highly acclaimed novels, Lightning in July, The Balancing Pole, Sunset at Rosalie, Maiden Voyage, and The House on Q Street. She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and teaches at the Writer's Center in Bethesda.