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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Somebody Else's Daughter Can't Quite Hide the Maggots

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With its crisp foliage, lush countryside and stately homes, The Berkshires seems an ideal place for a child to grow up. To Nate and Cat, a young couple strung out on drugs, the area represents everything they are not, everything they can't give to the infant they've brought into their dope-infected world. The Goldings, childless owners of a massive country estate, seem to be their polar opposites - happily married, wealthy, stable enough to care for a child. Nate releases his baby into their capable hands, knowing adoption will give them all a better chance at happiness.

When Somebody Else's Daughter by Elizabeth Brundage begins, time has shoved us forward 18 years. Nate, free of the drugs that controlled his youth, has accepted a job as a writing teacher at an exclusive prep school in The Berkshires. Although he's had no contact with the child he placed for adoption, a part of him longs to see her - so, he takes the position at her school. She'll never know his true identity, but maybe, just maybe, he'll have a chance to get to know her. Mentor her. Influence her. As awkward as he feels in the privileged world of his daughter, Nate knows it's worth it just to be near her.

Soon, Nate becomes part of the school's inner circle, hobnobbing with the director and his drab wife, as well as the wealthy parents of his students. The Goldings, who regularly donate large sums to the school, are card-carrying members of the elite group. As sparkling and glamorous as his new friends' world appears to be, Nate soon discovers that nothing is ever as it seems. Secrets swirl all around the idyllic, high-brow world, cloaking its inhabitants in a haze of lies and deceit. There are The Goldings, for instance, whose money buys Armani suits, antique Austin Healys, and pricey renovations in the community. But where does the cash come from, really? The Heaths seem to be the perfect directors of the school, but what really goes on behind closed doors? And what of the students, who hide their own little secrets? When skeletons come creeping out of the closets, lives will be shattered, innocence destroyed forever.

Somebody Else's Daughter is about the secrets, the lies, the betrayals that tear people apart. Its about the glittering facades behind which they hide. Brundage's writing reinforces her point - her prose is lush, hauntingly beautiful - but not enough to disguise her dark, disturbing themes. In so many ways the book is like a luxurious Persian rug laid over a mound of writhing maggots. No matter how lovely the rug, it can't quite hide the ugliness beneath. It's difficult to look away from the maggots, however, given Brundage's masterful writing. She tells a compelling story, filled with flawed, complex characters. It's also a depressing, unhappy tale, which dwells too much on the ugly side of life. The plot kept me riveted, for sure, but it also turned my stomach. I guess for me, there were just too many maggots obscuring the rug. Still, the Persian's there, and I have to give Brundage credit for a taut, engrossing story. I just wish she'd kicked some of the maggots back under the carpet where they belong.

Grade: B

1 comment:

  1. One of my college kids (church group) had mentioned reading this book, finding it to be wonderful, I went in search to find out a little more about it. She was in a similar position, having be adopted due to her parents not being fit. She asked for me to read the book and after reading this review I was more than happy to read it. She has asked me to read other things that have not been great.

    I have to agree with your analysis of the book. It was very well written and definitely had me intrigued throughout. Thank you for your well written review. I would have missed out on this book without your careful and beautiful writing.


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